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Sicko

07/17/07 12:00AM By Allen Gilbert
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(HOST) Michael Moore's new film "Sicko" may be his best yet, says commentator Allen Gilbert. But he wonders when change will finally come to the U.S. health care system.

(GILBERT) It's amazing to me that the most trenchant analysis of the nation's biggest problem comes from a filmmaker.

I'm not sure if that says something about the filmmaker, the problem, or the way that we communicate as a society.

I've just seen "Sicko," the new film by the unorthodox documentary maker, Michael Moore. Moore has produced a series of documentaries that take on topical issues - the war in Iraq, the gun culture, corporate greed. The film "Sicko" takes on health care. I think that it's Moore's best.

The power of the film comes from a simple fact: We all have a stake in the nation's health care system. Moore's main message is that the system is sick - so sick that it's literally killing people instead of saving them -- despite the fact that we have the most expensive health care system in the world.

Even people who are covered by "good" insurance plans provided by their employers need to worry, Moore says. That's because health insurance companies have a stake in paying out as little as possible. Moore films former insurance company employees describing how they received bonuses to keep claims low. The message: Even though you're covered, you still may not get the health care that you need.

Moore structures the film around stories of specific people. The stories are powerful because we can imagine facing the same health problems as these everyday Americans. Moore asks, "Who are we? What have we become" that we allow ourselves to be treated this way? He contrasts the social services provided in the United States with those in other countries. The conclusion is inescapable. As a society, we don't do a very good job of caring for one another.

Moore argues that health care should be like police or fire protection, or public schooling. It should be a service that we provide to everyone through government. It should be a basic right, something we're all entitled to.

It's hard to know what impact Moore's film will have. The health care complaints that he raises are not new. But what's compelling in the film is Moore's point that any one of us may be just a whisker away from a health care disaster.

Even things that should help us get better care can lead to no care. Electronic health care records, for example, can save lives in emergency situations. Wouldn't you want a doctor to know your full medical history as you're lying unconscious in an emergency room? Yet the same records can be tapped by insurance companies to deny coverage to someone because of what the records reveal about the person's health history.

I think that it's inevitable that someday we'll have a publicly financed universal health care system. No other system provides everyone with fair coverage at a reasonable price. The question is how bad our current system will have to get before we abandon it.

I'm afraid that many more of us will have to experience the horror stories Moore describes before we "get it" and demand change. That won't be easy.

Allen Gilbert is a former journalist, teacher, and consultant currently serving as executive director of the ACLU of Vermont.

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