Personal Health

Readers Write: Can Moore's SiCKO Make Health Care Reform Happen?

Will Moore's message travel beyond the progressive sphere and up the ranks on Capitol Hill? AlterNet readers weigh in.
To say that Michael Moore's latest documentary, SiCKO, has created a buzz is a lot like saying the Bush family has dabbled in politics. In the nearly two months since the film has been out, discussions about it have exploded, making health care a hot topic in the media, among politicians and online -- especially among AlterNet readers.

This summer we published upwards of 20 blogs and articles on SiCKO, many of which generated a flurry of comments. In dealing with the frustration of America's broken health system, some of you shared your personal HMO horror stories; some of you moved to other countries; some of you pleaded with Michael Moore to run for President. And nearly all of you agreed that America's health care system is in a state of crisis and needs to be fixed immediately. Which prompts one question: Will SiCKO help make it happen?

Readers like Maryanne are counting on it. Seventeen years ago, her father was admitted to the hospital with heart failure. While there, he was left unattended in the bathroom, and when he tried to rise, he fell, broke his hip and needed surgery. He was then transferred to another hospital for rehab but again was left unattended, fell, broke his other hip and needed another surgery.

The problem, Maryanne writes, was with payment. The insurance company paid for his initial hospitalization and surgeries but refused to pay the cardiologist for continued visits after the fall. Maryanne's father became further weakened and confused and was placed in a nursing home. She considered suing but ultimately decided against it. "Money," she writes, "would not get us our Dad back."

Stories like Maryanne's, which Moore uses to form the narrative spine of his film, have left many viewers a combination of shocked, sad, angry and motivated for change.

"As much as I'd I looked forward to seeing Sicko, I didn't expect it to bowl me over as much as it did," daw13 writes. "Moore really captures a sense of how sick we are as a nation compared to others, raising the question, Why?

"The film left me more deeply aware of our pathology than I think I've ever been, in a way that causes me to feel even more sad than angry. As if seeing my homeland from a distant place."

To a reader who posts under the pseudonym zyswvut, Moore's film has the potential to be "a rallying point for people seeking progressive change."

"The two most important indices on whether a government gives a rap about its people are how it performs in the areas of health care and education," zyswvut continues. "Obviously it hasn't cared much in recent years. ... It's time that most Americans are honest with themselves about the exploitative nature of our health care system."

But is Moore preaching to the choir? Will his message travel beyond the progressive sphere and up the ranks on Capitol Hill, or are the forces he is up against too powerful?

For starters, Moore must deal with unfair attacks from the mainstream media and right-wing spin from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter and Fox News -- a group that reader David V calls an "emboldened minority."

For years, he writes, these people have been drumming a dangerous message into American's brains: "'Conservatives are always right. Liberals are always wrong. Anything that is spoken, printed or written that goes against this fact is to be attacked without mercy, regardless of the facts. Rational debate is to be shunned. Name-calling, subjecting changing and personal insults are the preferred method.' Listen to any of the above-mentioned propagandists and you'll hear examples of this on a daily basis."

After seeing Moore's film get slimed on CNN, CatDad wrote, "The corporate media will not tolerate any ongoing and profound debate on our national shame of 47 millions Americans without access to health care in the world's wealthiest nation. Any profound "debate" will be intercepted and diverted away from the core issue of the critical need to provide health care to all Americans."

If Moore can get past conservative propaganda, he is still up against money-hungry industry.

"The lack of national health care in this country is just a symptom of a much deeper sickness in American social and political culture," Zooeyhall writes. "... As long as the measure of success in our country is 'if it makes money, you don't make apologies' nothing substantial will happen. And the health industry has been VERY good at making money for certain groups. You think they aren't going to give this up without a fight?"

"Knowing this 'fine' nation as I do, it won't be "sicko" that finally gets healthcare passed," writes a commenter who goes by the name paschn. "... What will get it done is the fact that BIG BUSINESS is behind it now. Because this nation, this culture hasn't the ability to think beyond their own comfort. As long as they're working, they could care less that millions of OTHER U.S. sheeples' jobs have been subsidized with our tax dollars for moves to 3rd world countries."

"Private health insurance, HMO's etc., are the nemesis preventing reform of health care in America right now," sofla100 writes in a similar vein. "With deep pockets and legions of lobbyists, they have many a politician under wraps. But, what may help is that many big corporations now feel under siege from health care costs. Recently, Toyota decided to locate a new auto assembly complex in the already heavily industrialized area of the Hamilton-Toronto corridor in Canada, instead of placing it in the USA. The health care costs were the factor. ... So, it may ultimately be that as America continues to loose ground due to rising health costs, losing industries might bring some pressure to bear on the Congress. Of course, it will not be the individual citizenry that brings about a change, despite Moore's polemic, they stopped mattering in money-controlled America [a] long time ago, but the corporate world vs. the corporate world (insurance), might bring about change."

Industry, however, is just one potential avenue for reform. Another possibility: Elect politicians who will make health care a priority.

"With earlier presidential primaries and caucuses and growing bipartisanship on US Health Care reform, Moore's film SICKO will ensure that health care reform will be the domestic issue that will elect our next president," writes Dr. Rick Lippin, from Southampton, Pa. " ... It is a movie -- like Gore's Inconvenient Truth -- that comes along once in a while that will change our nation on an issue of profound importance."

Moore has been working tirelessly throughout the summer to get his message to the masses and to lean on politicians to get serious about health care.

Last month Moore challenged presidential candidates to prove they're invested in health care by giving up their own government-provided health insurance until everyone else enjoys the same level of care they do:
The American government isn't afraid to hand out free health care. Senior citizens get it. Veterans get it. As SiCKO shows you, even the detainees at Guantanamo Bay get it.
So, too, do our federal elected officials. It doesn't matter if they are Republicans or Democrats, young or old, healthy or sick -- they are entitled to free, government-provided health insurance. They don't have to worry about being able to pay for medical help -- even if many of their constituents do.
When Senator Sherrod Brown was running for a seat in the House of Representatives over 10 years ago, he saw something wrong with this. He pledged not to accept his free government health care until everyone in the United States had the same luxury. (He's still waiting.)
Brown reasoned that politicians should have the same privileges as those they represent. I know a lot of the Democrats running for President understand this principle. Monday night during their YouTube debate, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama, and Bill Richardson all pledged to work for the minimum wage should they be elected president -- to show that they're in touch with the plight of everyday Americans, and to make sure they are personally invested in making sure the minimum wage in this country is a livable one. Good for them.
Now, candidates, how about giving up your health care too?
Regardless of who takes office in 2008, SiCKO has already shown that its influence stretches far beyond the film's end.

For Sharon Jenson -- a 40-year-old, divorced mother of one who has no health care -- the movie was motivation to start a letter-writing campaign to persuade CNN to offer more honest reporting about health care inequities in our country.

In her letter to CNN, Jenson wrote, "We Americans have paid for far too many fat salaries, coverage we cannot use, and overpriced prescriptions which all contribute to the wealthy getting wealthier, while the working class American must lose a loved one so that insurance execs can purchase another yacht, get another costly divorce, or reserve the hottest new sports car to feed their shallow souls."

With any luck, SiCKO could provoke action from all the Jensons of the world, making more of a movement than a movie.

"Nearly everyone has had at least one experience from hell with an insurance company," hagwind writes. "I think SiCKO is going to help focus these conversations, and give political and economic context to all those personal experiences. ... [O]ne movie will not tear down the brick wall, but it can be one hell of an organizing tool."

Even those of you who don't claim to be the biggest Michael Moore fans say SiCKO is valuable -- for people on the left AND the right.

"Michael Moore has got to be one of the most polarizing folks in America," kabac55 writes. " ... Nevertheless, the guy knows how to start a discussion rolling and gets some people thinking and doing something. In these times, this takes guts."
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