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Michael Moore’s Sicko

It was easier for me to find the trail at nearly 11,000 feet in the Indian Peaks Wilderness yesterday than to find the theater where I saw Michael Moore’s documentary Sicko. That’s because I hike a lot and this was the first time I have ever gone to a movie theater since 2004, when I moved to Boulder, Colorado. This isn’t a big town – barely 100,000 people, but I just didn’t know where the theater is and had to drive all around to find it.

The four-hour hike was much more strenuous than sitting on my butt in the theater for two hours, but a lot more fun. You can’t call a disturbing documentary like this fun, but, just like Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (which I saw a few months ago on DVD), it’s a film that I am glad to have witnessed.

Sicko is a brilliant piece of one-sided liberal reporting. Let the conservatives provide the other side, which they are more than ready to do. In fact, I was biased against the film even before I found the door to the theater. That could have been because of all the bad mouthing of it that I’ve read in The Wall Street Journal.

The film is not much about the nearly 50 million Americans who have no health insurance. It’s much more about the 250 million of us who have it.

Those of us with health insurance often have high deductibles and co-pays, which have driven some of those 250 million into bankruptcy. I know whereof the film shows.

Yesterday, between my hike and seeing the film, I went to a neighborhood pharmacy and picked up a new prescription that my doctor prescribed. He says that everyone with diabetes, no matter how good the control that he or she may have, needs to take something to protect his or her kidneys.

Last month he started me on an angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor, but it made me cough, a common side effect. So Tuesday he switched me to an angiotensin receptor blocker (ARB), which does the same thing but seldom causes coughing.

The least expensive ARB that my health insurance, Rocky Mountain Health Plans, covers is Cozaar. I paid $114.00 for the prescription, and my health insurance paid $31.49. That’s not going to drive me to the poorhouse, but is a far cry from the supposedly free Medicare prescription drug coverage that began last year after President Bush signed it into law as the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 with great fanfare.

Repentant former employees of the health care industry talked to Michael Moore for Sicko and to Congress on clips the film used about how HMO profits come before treatment. They seem to use any way they can to deny us service, including a huge long list of the so-called pre-existing conditions, which the film specifically notes includes diabetes.

The only positive part of the film was the quality of their health care systems in Canada, England, and France, as demonstrated in the documentary by people who use those systems and medical people there. One American living in France who has type 1 diabetes talked about his concern with getting medical care there in case that system would exclude him for that pre-existing condition. It didn’t.

In particular, like all of us Americans, I had heard horror stories of long waits for treatment in those “socialized medicine” systems. Not true, at least according to people whom Michael Moore interviewed.

The most dramatic part of the film came near the end, after he had carefully set it up. The first part of the setup was interviews with volunteer 9-11 rescue workers whose health suffer now as a consequence of that dusty work and who can’t get medical care here. The second part of the setup was clips from U.S. government and military spokespeople about the great quality of medical treatment that suspected terrorists held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp get.

The resolution was Michael Moore chartering three fishing boats full of Americans who ostensibly set off for Guantanamo to get the same quality treatment as the suspected terrorists. When the American military turned them away – something that probably surprised no one – they went instead to Cuba. There they got the medical treatment denied them in Guantanamo and before that in the mainland U.S.

Most of the criticism that I had read of this documentary made a lot about how it was somewhat shameful for Michael Moore to take people to “the enemy” in Cuba. But the message I got from the film that what is truly shameful is the lobbying influence of big HMOs and big pharma.

Like Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Michael Moore’s Sicko deals with an awful situation that many consider utterly hopeless, but isn’t. Al Gore points to the ways in which we can control global warming, and Michael Moore points to Canada, England, France, and Cuba as models for the solution to the sickness of the American health care system.

Yet Sicko ignores positive recent developments here at home, including nearly universal health care coverage in Massachusetts, Governor Schwarzenegger’s plan for universal health care in California, and most promising in my book the health care reform plans that most of the leading presidential candidates offer.

It seems that practically no one doubts that our health care system has failed badly. Sometimes we have to get into such a sick mess in order to get the will to fix it. That’s just the way it works for those of us with diabetes, myself included, who had to lead such unhealthy lives that we knew that we had to fix them or die.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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