Healthcare has become a hot political subject in the US, and even more so since Michael Moore’s film Sicko went on general release. It is now due to be shown in cinemas around the UK from 26 October.
Sicko has successful tapped into the US public mood of deep unease and anxiety about the way that a majority of the population are forced to resort to private insurance companies to gain access to health care. Government sponsored health care plans, such as Medicaid and Medicare, cover only the poorest, and plans to extend coverage have recently fallen foul of neo-conservative demagogue George Bush.
Bush has used his presidential veto to block legislation that would have given insurance to ten million poor American children. He justified his action by saying that the legislation would “move health care in the country in the wrong direction” and would have the effect of displacing private health insurance in favour of government coverage for many children. The State Children’s Health Insurance Programme is a joint state-federal effort that subsidises health coverage for 6.6 million children and extends to those that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford their own private coverage.
It’s a common story. As the rich getter richer and the poor get poorer, an increasing number of people find themselves without access to healthcare. To obtain health care you either have to be very rich (and get very good healthcare) or very poor (and get the basics). 44.8 million Americans are uninsured. Moore notes that 18,000 people die each year as a result of restricted access to healthcare, and the Institute of Medicine believes that many people do not get the healthcare they need and die prematurely. Fears about a recession in the US and rising unemployment are also making people more insecure, alarmed that they will lose their job and with it the medical cover that it provides.
The reaction to the news that Michael Moore was met with barely concealed horror by the medical insurance and drugs industries. They attempted to prevent him from speaking to their employees, and PR specialists and political lobbyists were geared up to rubbish the films content. However, their efforts appear to have had little effect.
Thousands of people contacted Moore about being denied health coverage, including employees from many insurance companies. Moore’s focus on the life stories of those most affected has, as with his other films, made for a hard-hitting documentary about the consequences of having no insurance or having insurance with so many opt-out clauses that it is worthless. Moore cites one company which makes anyone with diabetes, heart disease or cancer ineligible for coverage.
Moore’s film graphically shows what happens when you make profit the driving force of people’s healthcare; not only does it make for a very sickly population, it is also complicated, wasteful and immensely costly. The people who gain the most out of it are the chief executives and shareholders of the drugs, insurance companies and hospitals.
Moore compares the US system with those that exist in Canada, Britain, France and Cuba. These systems all have their flaws, but are a massive advance on the US profit-driven healthcare system. The film will hopefully have the effect of building a head of steam among US health workers and communities for a properly funded health care system, which provides healthcare as a right and not as a privilege to be paid for.
In the UK people may pause to consider how dentistry in this country already resembles the US healthcare system and how some of those private healthcare providers cited in Sicko are now over here – Aetna, Humana, Health Dialog Services and UnitedHealth are advising and are being given a role in Primary Care Trust commissioning.
On 3 November several unions have organized a march and rally, ending in Trafalgar Square, to celebrate the creation of the NHS. The celebration must be turned into a demonstration against the increasing privatisation of healthcare and for a properly funded healthcare system.