Monday, July 09, 2007



I saw Michael Moore's latest masterpiece "SiCKO" tonight. It was, to me, his finest production since Roger and Me. Where I felt let down (or was it slightly embarrassed) by the maudlin focus on one family's loss in Fahrenheit 911, here I felt he did little to nothing wrong. Could he have given screen time to the insurance industry to rebut his arguments? I suppose, but it's not like they give the dead, dying, and at-risk an opportunity to give their say when they get their expensive PR campaigns in full gear. Turnabout being fair play and all, Moore lays it out there, and we're welcome to investigate further on our own. Which means that Moore will win out, because the more you investigate the tragedy of health care in this country, the more you'll see that only obfuscation and apathy have been able to allow this system to limp along as it has for the last 50 years.

I was reading some of the discussion in Digby's comment thread on the movie, and was struck by a couple of things. One, someone pointing out that Cuba ranked below the U.S. on the WHO ranking of nations. While we need to keep in mind that the ranking is pretty arbitrary, I will point out that Cuba far outperforms other poor nations, while the U.S. far underperforms (while spending a higher proportion of our GDP) other wealthy nations. We should be far, far higher than Cuba but instead barely manage to squeak ahead. And the most important part is that the cracks in the system in the U.S. are such that if you have an underlying problem (too fat, too thin, former yeast infection) or if you lose the fight to be recognized as a lucky 9/11 worker, it can actually mean that you get treated unequally in this system. It's catch as catch can here, and that borders on the criminal. And yet we put up with it. Thanks to obfuscation and apathy.

I remember 15 years ago, watching the nightly news on the eve of the 1992 presidential election, and seeing something on one of the networks that made me think: this could actually happen -- the health care crisis in America has actually gotten to the point where the corporate media is ready to bring people on board with a system of universal health care. We're on the precipice of a new day! I was shocked but also so hopeful, particularly after Clinton's election victory. And then, it all went to pot. Thanks to Bob Dole and a cast of many others (primarily Republicans) along with Bill Clinton's inability to truly lead on this issue, here we are 15 years later, and it's only gotten worse. Although there is some progress that's been made in some states, such as Illinois. But this should not be a state-by-state issue in my opinion. People in Massachusetts should not get far better health care than people in Alabama just because of their geographic location.

The second thing in Digby's comment section that struck me was that someone recalled seeing that 50% of bankruptcies were due to medical bills/catastrophic health problems. It's interesting that when the bankruptcy bill was debated a couple of years ago, that statistic was used as a reason to stop passage, but it passed anyway. It's a very frustrating world we live in when we are made aware of such facts and come away with something that makes it harder for people to declare bankruptcy AND does nothing to help with those medical bills. I know a lot of Democrats helped get that passed (paging Joe Biden) but ultimately, it was the Republicans. Which is yet another reason why it's hard for me to feel anything but bitterness when I meet a Republican in this day and age. I like to think of myself as broad-minded, but that bill was really beyond the pale.

A third thing I was struck by were comments regarding how to counter the argument that the capitalism aspect to American healthcare is what has helped to make ours one of the most technologically advanced systems in the world, if not the most. I would like to point out that just as private schools & colleges have not gone away, nor have taxi cabs/cars, nor UPS, nor private security systems, nor many other private enterprises in areas where there are large government programs, it will be the same for healthcare. Just because we'll be providing a larger amount of free service for the majority of us doesn't mean that there won't be a parallel system for the wealthy. They'll be able to pay for their private clinics, their private doctors, even an insurance system to supplement national care. The rich always are able to figure out a way to live that much better than the rest of us. It's their nature. Their extreme wealth should be plenty to spur development. Also, much of the research that has led to our medical advancement has been thanks to places like NIH and the many (often public) research universities out there.

Finally, I am desperately hopeful that Michael Moore will keep it up. To say he's an imperfect messenger is to miss the point - we all are. What he is, though, is the single best messenger I've ever seen for changing the terms of the debate, whether it's about unions & corporations, the war in Iraq, and healthcare. I'll be fascinated to see where he goes next. I hope it's the media or, even better, the secretive, massive PR industry. I got my first hint of the demons associated PR thanks to Tom Tomorrow, who did the cover for the exposé Toxic Sludge Is Good for You. Definitely read it if you ever get a chance.

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