Sunday, July 1, 2007

Sicko: the "softer" side of Moore

“But behind it all, we need to realize that if we say we're a Christian nation, providing health care for every American is the Christian thing to do,” concludes Moore, a Catholic who embarked on his quest for social justice after opting not to become a priest.

“I don't know why we call a Christian act socialism. I think Jesus would want for every one of us to take care of human beings and guarantee it for everyone.”

~from Pasadena Weekly article

So this isn't directly related to hunger issues, but it is related to poverty. And I went to see it with my internship supervisor (who was a friend long before he was a supervisor, by the way). The above quote was not in the movie, but was a comment made at the unorthodox and barely-media-covered premiere of the film in Los Angeles' "Skid Row." One news source with representation at the event was the Pasadena Weekly, which has an interesting article on it (including some descriptions of what's in the movie).

I'll be honest, I'm not the biggest Michael Moore fan. Truth be told, I was quite surprised to find out from the aforementioned article that Moore is a Christian. It was not his politics that led me to think otherwise, but his frequently abrasive demeanor. On the other hand, Christians are well known for their abrasive demeanors, so go figure. This film, however, was the best Moore film yet, in my humble opinion (the others being Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, and Fahrenheit 9/11). The reason? Moore got out of the way a little bit and let other people talk for themselves. Also, he spent a significant amount of time focusing on positive messages rather than ranting attacks. He does make some jabs and his biting humor is completely present, of course, but it's somewhat toned down.

As a former worker in the health insurance industry myself, I would first just like to mention what I see as the biggest con of the movie, which is that his examples are obviously showing only one side of the story. I can't speak to how well the positive examples from other countries (Canada, UK, France, Cuba) portray their systems (though I have my suspicions). For the American system, however, I know that there is information that we're not hearing. When I answered phone calls for a Medicare HMO plan, most of the errors were either misunderstandings by the callers/members ( and granted, the plans are complicated) or unintentional clerical or processing errors. I also processed claims, so I had an understanding of why things got denied.

There were a few rare occasions in which I had no personal knowledge of why something was denied. That was when authorizations were reviewed by the medical director. But these denials had explanations: for example, further inpatient days at the acute level of care were denied because the patient was not making any progress according to the reports of hospital doctors. I can't say whether there was some kind of medical director conspiracy of the kind that Moore documents, since I was lower on the totem pole, but I will say that even if a possibility existed for such occasions, it was quite rare. But I talked to a lot of people who had plenty of conspiracy theories about claims, benefits, enrollment practices, etc. Most of these people simply misunderstood their benefits and wouldn't accept any explanation that pointed out their mistakes. After working for two different health insurance companies, I still have respect for the integrity of those companies, even being a person concerned about poverty and social justice concerns.

The purpose of this movie is not to be "fair and balanced" (if such a thing is possible), however, but rather to demystify the concept of "socialized medicine." Moore highlights an alternative way of looking at the issue. His cherry-picking of bad stories in the US and good stories in countries with universal health care asks the question: Is it really so bad? I believe that we should try to be more balanced and nuanced, but frankly, intellectual nuance is a thing lost in the media and popular culture. Moore speaks in a way that people can resonate with his message.

It really is a good movie. Funny. Helpful. And I would certainly recommend people watch this with family and friends for invigorating discussions.

Here are some interesting articles on the movie:

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