With Sicko, his latest documentary, professional gadfly Michael Moore examines the shortcomings of the American health-care system, and he's crafted his most accessible and least divisive movie to date. The film contends that the American system of managed health care is conceptually misguided, dictated by the for-profit motives of the insurance industry. It also argues for universal health coverage to be regarded as a basic human right, and it strikes a resounding blow against our culturally ingrained resistance to the idea of socialized medicine.
Moore doesn't engage in his customary pounding on the doors of CEOs to deliver withering on-camera broadsides. Instead, he tells the stories of dozens of middle-class Americans who dutifully paid their insurance premiums and felt secure about their coverage, only to find themselves abandoned by their insurance companies in their time of need.
Yes, Moore remains a master of rhetoric and a sometimes sentimental sap, but this time he uses those qualities to great effect. Moore visits health facilities in England, Canada, France and Cuba - countries where universal health coverage is assured - and shows how these systems are superior to managed care in the U.S.; socialized medicine doesn't have to mean diminished care for patients or reduced wages for doctors. It's impossible to come away from the movie without wondering how it is that America is the only industrialized nation that doesn't provide universal coverage, especially given our easy acceptance of the universal right to such things as education and Social Security.
Extremely effective is a segment in which Moore shares a moment from the Nixon White House tapes ("the gift that goes on giving," Moore says in interviews) where the president delighted in Kaiser's new health plan, which provided less coverage for more profit. And then there's Moore's tracing of Hillary Clinton's evolution from the overhauler of the U.S. health system to her present position as the second biggest recipient of insurance company money. Never one to settle for the "if you can't beat them, join them" approach, Moore moves the debate's front lines to your nearest movie theater.
Although people may differ on the methods of improving the American health-care system, Sicko's great contribution is its undeniable evidence that the system is broken. If this film brings the debate out into the open of our movie lobbies and living rooms, it can't be long before the conversation again trickles into the corridors of Congress.