Sicko a powerful mix of humor, pathos

Michael Moore, the activist author and filmmaker, has given every union member in the United States a great tool of advocacy for our health care agenda with his new movie, “Sicko.” We should return that favor by turning out to see it in big numbers.

With a compelling combination of humor and pathos, “Sicko” documents how medical insurance companies act like cancer on this country’s health care system. This is what we want to eliminate with a national health care system.

Moore begins the film by subjecting his viewers to excruciatingly painful insurance system failure scenes. They include an injured worker suturing up his own lacerated knee because he is one of the 47 million Americans without health insurance; a couple moving into a spare room in their daughter’s home after medical insurance co-payments for the husband’s three heart attacks and the wife’s cancer forced them into bankruptcy, the most common cause for personal bankruptcy today; and a young woman recounting the death of her 18-month-old baby because an ambulance took the critically ill girl to a hospital that refused to treat her because her insurance would not pay for services there.

Those disquieting scenes are thankfully interspersed with Moore’s often-comical antics in four countries with national health care: Canada, Britain, France and Cuba.

In Canada, he tools around in a golf cart with a conservative who endorses the country’s national system of medicine and describes its creator, Tommy C. Douglas, as a Canadian hero, akin to George Washington or Abe Lincoln.

How could a conservative support socialized medicine? Moore asks the man. The conservative says it’s because not everyone can afford the medical services they need. The conservative, like Moore and most of us, recognizes that health care is a human right, not some kind of privilege bestowed only on the rich or the lucky.

Moore reports that his research shows that Canadian, British and French citizens live longer, healthier lives than Americans, and their infants are more likely to survive. The overhead costs for these health care systems are far less than America’s. In fact, the overhead for the one already national system in America, Medicare, is 3 percent. It’s 30 percent for the insurance system. Apparently, Moore says, the government can do something right.

Moore ends up in Cuba after trying to take some American patients, including two 9/11 first responders who suffered lung injuries, to Guantanamo Bay to get some of that free health care America is dispensing to accused al-Qaeda war criminals imprisoned there.

After being refused entrance to the American portion of the island, Moore takes his patients to a Cuban hospital, which provides free treatment to the foreigners under the same procedures and circumstances that it gives care to Cuban citizens. The idea, again, is that medical treatment is a right of all humans, regardless of nationality or religion or politics.

A Cuban firehouse conducted a ceremony to honor the first responders before they left because, the firemen said, they were all brothers and sisters. The Cubans said they wished they could have aided with the rescue on 9/11.

This kind of solidarity is essential for us to win a better health care system. The film advocates radical surgery on the American system to excise the insurance companies, which profit by denying coverage, treatments and pharmaceuticals, and by rescinding payments once made.

Michael Moore argues in “Sicko” that this is not representative of American behavior. We show solidarity in crises and disasters. We bring food, build houses, give blood and clothes.

We have the right, the power and the opportunity to deliberately plan and build a health care system that would be fair and equitable and cover everyone as a human right.

We all know from our bargaining experiences how crucial it is to get health care off the table. That would eliminate much of the contentiousness in negotiations and make it much easier for American companies to compete in the global economy against nations that already provide national health care, including all of those in Western industrialized countries.

Go see the movie. Take your family and friends and neighbors. And take action outside the theatre, too. Stand in solidarity with your union brothers and sisters and Michael Moore to cure our Sicko health care system.

Leo W. Gerard is president of the United Steelworkers union. This is slightly abridged from an article that originally appeared at .



Sicko Directed by Michael Moore Lionsgate, 2007 113 minutes, PG-13