Michael Moore's 'Sicko' Takes On Healthcare
Filmmaker Michael Moore, known for his satirical, polarizing examinations of American issues in films like Fahrenheit 9/11, about terrorism and the war with Iraq; and the Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine, on gun violence, has a new film coming out. Sicko, to be released in theaters nationwide June 29, takes aim at the U.S. healthcare system. It chronicles the experiences of people who discovered that having private health insurance was no guarantee they'd get the care they needed and takes sympathetic pilgrimages to France, Great Britain, and Canada to look at how healthcare is delivered in countries with government-run, "single-payer" health systems, which Moore believes is the way to go. He spoke with U.S. News about the film.
Where did the idea for Sicko come from?
Back in the late '90s, I put together a humorous newsmagazine program called The Awful Truth for Bravo. We helped one guy get an organ transplant whose insurance company had refused to pay. I thought, if we could save a guy's life in a 10-minute segment on cable, what could we do if we devoted a whole movie to a whole bunch of people? And what can we do to effect a larger change?
Of all the personal stories you heard, is there one that stands out for you that really crystallizes the problem with healthcare in the United States?
There was a woman who had very good health coverage. It covered mental health benefits. She was raped and went to see a psychiatrist as a result of the trauma she was suffering afterwards. But her health insurance refused to pay the psychiatrist because they said the rape was a pre-existing condition. It had happened before she went to the psychiatrist, so they wouldn't cover it.
It's striking that the folks you spoke with who've been hurt by the system don't turn to activism to try to change it.
They're demoralized. They're afraid. They're afraid if they act up too much, they'll lose their jobs, their healthcare, their benefits. And so they just keep their nose to the grindstone and hope for the best.
Do you think your movie has the potential to shake them out of that?
Possibly. I'll tell you one thing, from the test audiences that they've been showing it to around the country. People leave the theater in an agitated state. They want to go choke somebody. They want to do something, physically want to do something, about what they've just seen. That's a good thing. I mean, not the violence part, but wanting to do something.
Do any of the 2008 presidential candidates offer a solution that you think is workable?
No. Edwards is the only one who's come out with a really detailed plan, and his plan's no good because he wants to put taxpayers' money into the private health insurance system. We need to cut out the middleman. Healthcare should be between the doctor and the patient. And if the doctor says something needs to be done, the government should guarantee it gets paid for.
When you ask people what they want, they say they want to have universal healthcare, but they don't want a big government program. What will it take to get people to come around to your point of view?
They've been inundated with a lot of propaganda about the single-payer system. But government is supposed to be of, by, and for us. That means we're in charge of it. If we say the government sucks, we're kind of saying that we suck.
In the film you visit France, Britain, and Canada, all countries you describe as having an ethos that people have a responsibility to take care of each other. Why don't we have that here in the United States?
We're plagued with an every-man-for-himself attitude. That attitude may have been good in helping us build this country and helping us become the innovators that we are. But we won't make it through the 21st century intact as a great country if we don't adopt a different ethos that says we're all in the same boat. We sink or swim together. We have to help each other.
Are you optimistic that can happen?
Yes, I am. I've seen it. People want to pull together, and they're good at it. But I'm fighting some pretty heavy forces here.