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‘Sicko’: a must see film

By Harry Throssell - posted Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Australia is driving inexorably along the road towards the American way of life, and death. Michael Moore’s film Sicko is a warning Australians of all political hues should take to heart.

Moore interviews many Americans who simply cannot afford essential medical treatment so will die; who have paid insurance premiums for years and then found they are not covered when it comes to the crunch; mothers who lost children or husbands while the hospital and insurance company quibbled over fees, insurance and definitions of sickness; who paid insurance premiums but when they made a claim were sent a list of literally thousands of conditions excluded from their cover after all; who have lost houses and life savings in order to pay medical bills; former employees of insurance companies who confess their job was to twist definitions of sickness or search for other ways, however miniscule, to avoid paying out when a client is sick and are now tearfully ashamed of what they were forced to do.

The American health service comes out as mostly another way to make billions of dollars, particularly insurance companies, while children and others die for want of care. There were even patients with memory loss and no home to go to who were taken by taxi from hospital to a poor part of town and literally dumped on the pavement.


Moore travels to Canada, the UK, France and Cuba and shows that sick people can get good quality medical treatment free of charge, even if they are visitors to the country. He investigates how other countries can afford to offer free or low-cost treatment, which has of course the advantage of getting people back into the workforce quickly, contributing to the economy, back to their families, and achieving happier and longer life-spans than in the USA. He explores whether medical staff in these more generous systems are slaves on low wages and finds they are doing very nicely, thank you.

The courageous investigative reporter takes patients, who received little help from the American medical system, to Cuba where they are thoroughly examined in clinics and put on free treatment programs.

The only part of the USA where first-class facilities are available free of charge is in Guantanamo Bay military prison for those lucky enough to enjoy a stay there.

A woman physician makes a statement to Congress lamenting the part she played, and now greatly regrets, in seeking ways for an insurance company to refuse treatment to sick people.

Moore traces this history of making fortunes from sickness to the regime of former president Richard Nixon, using tape recordings of top-level policy discussions. Nixon would make speeches which sounded generous and ethical but in practice he and his henchmen created a system which denied necessary treatment while government, insurance companies and individuals made bonanzas.

Moore also shows more recent history when Congressmen and women left politics to take highly-paid jobs in insurance companies, from whom they had already received generous gifts for bringing in certain legislation. The biggest gift was to current President George W. Bush, Moore reports.


But the story is much more than treating sickness. Moore has a long talk with former British Labour Party Cabinet Minister Tony Benn. Benn explains that while he abhors communism his country, since World War II, has operated according to certain measures of equality accepted by both sides of the political spectrum derived from William Beveridge’s wartime reports on Health and Allied Social Services. Even extreme Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher endorsed this system in which workers paid taxes to finance a health service as a basic civil right.

There is another dimension to this American health saga presumably too recent for Moore to include: the tragic stories of military personnel returning from Iraq with horrific wounds and finding even the famed Walter Reed Military Hospital in such disarray and disrepair it is unable to carry out reasonable medicine; some wards so dirty mice are running around. Once exposed by the media, seen in Australia on the Lehrer News Hour (SBS), senior hospital administrators have been forced to resign.

Australia seems to be going down the same path as USA.

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About the Author

Harry Throssell originally trained in social work in UK, taught at the University of Queensland for a decade in the 1960s and 70s, and since then has worked as a journalist. His blog Journospeak, can be found here.

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