Sunday, July 8, 2007

Michael Moore's "Sicko"

Went to see this today at the urging of my yoga teacher, Ursula. Actually I had planned to see it anyway. Yes, it's typical Michael Moore with his flair for theatrics and heavy-handed, one-sided liberal propaganda.

But I like Michael Moore. Bowling for Columbine (which completely changed my opinion of Marilyn Manson who was quite lucid and eloquent. But then he had to go and ditch his wife and start dating a teenage girl half his age and so now my low opinion is thus restored) was really illuminating regarding the culture of fear (check out the amazing book on this subject by Barry Glassner).

Fahrenreit 9/11 was uneven and should have really been three different movies--one exploring the voting irregularities of the 2000 election, one examining the loss of civil freedoms post 9/11 and one exposing how disenfranchised and underprivileged American young people (and I do mean young--the average age of the American soldier is 19 years-old. Babies. It's a travesty...) are dying in Iraq in the name of freedom and the so-called "War on Terror." But it was still convincing and captivating.

And so is Sicko. Instead of focusing on the healthcare providers or the millions of uninsured, he turns his attention to the 250 millions who ARE insured and are operating under the delusion that if they get sick or injured, their health insurer will take care of them. The overwhelming report from the trenches is "Fat chance, buster." After watching this movie one seriously contemplates relocating to Canada.

Now I have my share of health care horror stories. Mostly about not being insured. But most of them have happy endings--unlike several of the horrific stories in Sicko where people actually DIE as a result of health insurers denying coverage. Once upon a time I did have a job with benefits. Only to be laid off. So I thought I would make good use of my time off by getting my annual checkup out of the way. Stupid move. Turns out I had cervical dysplasia--a precancerous condition. Now I'm unemployed, uninsured AND tagged with having a pre-existing condition. Great. I told the doctor I had no health insurance. She was compassionate. She charged me for a "limited office visit" (only $35!) for the colposcopy and the subsequent cryosurgery. I'm sure each of these procedures would have easily cost ten times that.

Several years later the dysplasia reared its ugly head again. This time I was insured, but it was a pre-existing condition and therefore not covered. The new doctor also showed discretion charging me only $75 for each visit to do the colposcopy and cryosurgery. Thankfully I've had no abnormal Pap smears since then.

Then I moved to California where the health care system is fairly comprehensive. There are free clinics and those that operate on sliding scales. I had an emergency room visit to UCLA Harbor Medical. The bill was $500, but get this--if I paid within 10 days (they consider that "pre-payment"), it was only $75. What a deal! Reminds me of the time I saw this awesome sculpture in the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog. $25,000!!! But they had a replica of the sculpture inside a snow globe for the bargain price of $40! Guess which version I got for Christmas? But I digress...

Now that I am once again covered by health insurance, I can breathe a little easier. But still there are idiotic things that I have to deal with. Like my Blue Cross plan will cover just about every insulin on the market except a new one that came out over a year ago and really worked well for me to control my blood sugar. Every time I tried to talk to customer service, they'd say "Call the Pharmacy." I'd call the Pharmacy division, they'd say it's a coverage issue--talk to customer service.

Customer service says, "The plan you're on doesn't cover brand name drugs. You need to have your doctor prescribe the generic." I explain to them that there is currently no such thing as generic insulin--the FDA still hasn't released the generic guidelines. Every single insulin listed on their formulary is BRAND NAME and is covered. It's useless. So I have to use an insulin that is highly erratic.

So I don't doubt the stupidity of health insurers. Or their greed. Still, having dealt with doctors who are willing to go outside the "system" to help, I wonder how it is that people DIE from not having health insurance. 18,000 each year according to Institute of Medicine. A friend of my mother's was fighting cancer for years. They had no health insurance. And yet she got top of the line care from Johns Hopkins. I think many uninsured people put off seeking any treatment or even basic maintenance due to fears of cost, etc. A bit of research into community resources might decrease that number.

But it still remains an issue that we need to deal with--access to medical treatment for all people. Moore proposes that we do away with health insurance and turn the healthcare industry into a public service--like firefighters or the police or education. As one of the most prosperous nations on the planet it's astounding to find out that while America spends a higher portion of its GNP on health care, it ranks only 37th as a health care system by the World Health Organization. And that's a damn shame.

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