Michael Moore's Preexisting Condition

Supporting the troops: Michael Moore with ordinary Americans

Supporting the troops: Michael Moore with ordinary Americans

Healthy and confident people are a lot harder to govern, says one of the talking heads in Michael Moore's Sicko. So is it any wonder that the U.S. health care system is woefully insufficient to meet our needs?

At the Cannes Film Festival, the world's most successful nonfiction filmmaker—looking unusually dapper in a dark blazer (and no baseball cap)—told reporters that he had made a conscious decision with his latest work not to include a scene of him marching into the offices of United Healthcare or Blue Cross to embarrass executives or pressure them into approving treatment of a client in need. With Sicko, Moore's goal is to treat the disease rather than the symptom. That is: He wants to inspire us to be healthy and confident.

"I don't want the audience thinking, 'Oh, as long as Mike goes and beats up the executive of the corporation, we can [just] sit here and cheer him on,'" says Moore. "Or 'Wow, that's great that he confronted that congressman and asked him if he was going to send his son to Iraq.'

"After [Fahrenheit 9/11], I started thinking about the whole conceit of the audience living vicariously through someone on the screen—in this case, me—and about how we're never going to have real change in the United States if the public doesn't see that it'll only happen when they rise up out of the theater seats and do something about it. And so [Sicko] is a call to action. The film is meant not for Michael Moore to [act], but for the American people to do it."

To this end, Sicko makes ample use of humor, as usual for a Moore movie, while also including a number of undeniably infuriating case histories. There's the car accident victim whose coverage is partially denied because her ambulance ride to the hospital wasn't approved in advance. There's the woman whose $7,000 surgery is refused for coverage by Blue Cross after she is found to have had a yeast infection. And, most strikingly, there are the 9/11 rescue workers with respiratory illnesses who were denied health care because they weren't on the government payroll when they were offering their services at Ground Zero; these are the people whom Moore drives by boat to the general vicinity of Guantánamo Bay ("They don't want any more [care] than you're giving Al Qaeda!") and then to Cuba. (Clearly, Moore has made one exception to his new rule of withholding direct assistance.)

These are extreme cases, but Sicko hardly fails to hit the most general point about the inevitable effect of privatized health care under capitalism. "Let me say a word in [insurance companies'] favor," offers Moore. "They are legally required to maximize the profits of their shareholders. Right? They have a fiduciary responsibility—that's what the law says—to maximize profits for their shareholders. If they don't do that, their executives could be in huge trouble for violating the law. So how do they maximize profits? The way to maximize profits is to give as little care as possible to the patients. And that to me is immoral.

"We're the last country in the Western industrialized world that has this situation, and it needs to change. We need a [presidential] candidate who's willing to have the courage to say, 'Private health insurance companies have to go. [Health insurance] needs to be nonprofit and it needs to be managed by our government—for the people, of the people, by the people.'"

Show of hands: Who's feeling healthy and confident?

This article was originally published as a post at City Pages' Culture To Go blog.