Michael Moore has a reputation for tackling highly polarizing topics in his documentaries. Moore generally eschews political punditry, choosing to raise concern over a callous acceptance of broken systems and cultural maladies such as gun violence in a paranoiac media culture or corporate disregard for employee welfare. In 2007’s Sicko, Moore tackles health care. Sicko addresses the United States’ health care system. Moore opines that with its reliance on for-profit insurance companies and HMOs (health maintenance organizations), the system effectively obstructs Americans from proper access to health care.
In effect, Moore’s theme here is that the American health care system is effectively dysfunctional, because in this regard it fails to provide the services it was designed for in the first place. Moore illustrates this point with numerous examples of individuals wronged by the system: a husband who died after being denied an ‘experimental’ bone marrow transplant, an eighteen-month old girl who was turned away from the nearest ER because they were not pre-approved by her insurer.
Furthermore, he reports on the regretful tales of those who worked within the system, most notably a former Humana medical director who earned a six figure salary to deny claims. For comparison purposes, Moore also draws on the experiences of doctors and patients from France and the United Kingdom. He expresses disbelief at the comprehensive free health care offered by the latter and the astonishingly broad social services provided by the former.
Moore also brings up Medicare, the publicly funded health insurance system that helps Canadians deal with the costs of privatized medical care, and humorously endorses Canadian spouses for such benefits. That aside, Moore’s point of emphasis is that in these countries, health care is taken for granted as the societal responsibility addressed by the government. Moore establishes then, that the efficacy of health care is owed in large part due to a widespread expectation that governments must address the welfare of its citizens.
These two themes of a U. S. health care system that fails to fulfill its function, and the societies that have built strong health care systems as a responsibility to its citizens is then contrasted by Moore’s observation that U. S. culture has a general distaste for the ‘socialization’ of health care systems – that is to say that health care has been left to the free market because that is ‘the American way’.
To put this in context, Moore gives a condensed history of the health care debate in the United States, illustrating the fears that ‘socialized’ services could lead to communism, despite the fact that public education, federal postage and other ‘socialized’ services have not led to communism. Moore makes clever use of juxtaposition, editing and a combination of deadpan outrage to establish a frustration with the inhumanities he regularly encounters in his research on the subject matter.
However, Moore also skews his presentation of facts and imagery, and it becomes difficult not to take his assertions at face value without checking the context of his sources. If Moore were a research scientist, he would most certainly fail a course on ethics in methodology. Anyone with any experience or acquaintances in United Kingdom, Canada or Cuba – the countries which Moore idealizes in his search for better health care – knows that the systems there are from perfect.
Sicko is never fallacious, but with its lack of academic objectivity and reliance on artistic license to present the facts, presents the subject matter problematically. One doesn’t need a library or a Google search to begin to spot these questionable disruptions of fact in Sicko. Moore merely presents firsthand accounts of how Americans are defrauded by the health care system, and then presents an unquestioningly rosy portrait of the health care systems of other countries without highlighting any of their failings.
This tactic is inherently flawed because it carries the same truth value as the glib assurances of the very same corporate executives Moore has ambushed – and dismissed – before in his previous films. I do not disagree with Moore or his film as strongly as his critics. He maintains a pointed emphasis on the general community-oriented philosophy of social services that is lacking in the United States that is still both intellectually sound and emotionally moving.
But by merely highlighting the flaws of the American system over the strengths of the European and Canadian’s, he trivializes the issue, and this issue is too serious to reduce into a portrait of humorous disbelief over the differences between America and the rest of the world. Nonetheless, Moore succeeds in agitating his audiences into bewilderment over the current state of affairs in American health care, and possibly agitate its audience into action and joining the numerous Americans not mentioned by Moore who are currently working to repair the health care system.
Facts be damned, Sicko is agitprop designed to raise concern over what passes for a health care system in the United States, and there’s definitely no faulting it for that. At the very least, the film has allowed me to give the Canadian health care system a double take and recognize that, even with its shortcomings, it is at the very least, directed towards matters that barely register in American health care, most notably the welfare and betterment of its citizens and has never been sidelined for less than critical matters such as homeland security, piracy crackdowns or the war on drugs.