America's got a terrific health care system, as long as you don't get sick.Now this aspect of the film I'm going to see is going to be no surprise. Especially if the reports that I see mostly from On the Fence films are correct.
That much, at least, seems to be conceded even by lobbyists for the nation's health insurance industry. That's judging by one of the few who showed up at Michael Moore's invitation for the Washington premiere of his new movie, "Sicko."
"Look, identifying problems in our health-care system is like shooting fish in a barrel," consultant Claudia Schlosberg was quoted as saying by the Washington Post. The real issue, she said, is finding solutions.
That's easy to say when you represent the industry that grew those fish in what's becoming a shrinking barrel. Numerous congressional proposals have offered wider, less expensive and more reliable coverage than Americans receive from our current patchwork, employer-based system.
But no matter how workable, practical or desirable the proposals may be, the insurance industry reliably shoots them down. Armed with billions of dollars for political campaign contributions, spin doctors and attack ads, the industry has largely steered the nation's health care debate for decades.
It's hard for the public to make an intelligent choice when only one side has the megaphone. Moore evens things up a bit. He uses the same pop culture that brings you Paris Hilton and "American Idol" to offer something truly valuable: a vision of a better American health care system than the one we have.
He offers something else that most Americans never see: how easily anyone -- including visitors -- can access good public health care in Canada and Europe and how satisfied those country's citizens are with their systems. Critics predictably charge Moore with sugar-coating his view of the other countries, particularly Cuba, where Castro's government still affords superior care to favored Communist Party elites. Nevertheless, having witnessed health care in each of the countries Moore visits, I think he got it about right. Politics aside, even Cuba shows how a remarkably universal system of education and health care can be produced by a country with a lot fewer resources than we have.It's unfortunate that Americans don't like change. A lot of us believe that the health care system is in crisis. Seeing the videos from On the Fence films about the Canadian health care system make me hope that their solution won't be ours anytime soon. Perhaps it's a matter of the insurance companies and the fact that people these days want to put forward frivolous lawsuits.
As for Canada and Europe, customer satisfaction is high, despite the drawbacks. Defenders of our health care status quo come up with one horror story after another of long lines, waiting lists, rising costs or rationed care. But they don't like to talk about the long lines, waiting lists, rising costs or rationed care that Americans face in our existing system. Moore's movie does.
Nobody's system is perfect. But despite the smear job that conservatives over here give to British health care, for example, stalwart conservatives over there aren't mounting much of an effort to change it. Similarly Washington's Medicare debate centers on how it should be run (How to pay for it? What should it cover? How can we contain costs?), not whether it should exist.
But that doesn't make Moore's argument any easier. Americans don't like to change, even when it is for the better. President Bush found that out when he tried to sell the opportunity for each of us to invest part of our Social Security contributions in the stock market, if we so choose. Not a bad idea, really. Nobody would be forced to do it. Yet, the more speeches he gave on the subject the less popular it became. (It's probably just as well that Bush in his younger days did not choose a career in sales. He might have starved to death.)
Not that I know the absolute answer by any means, but treatment of a major medical condition shouldn't be predicated on whether or not the patients should almost lose their homes and sell the valuables to pay for their treatment. If costs are a problem, there has to be a way to either lower them or contain them, but without resorting to a single-payer system.
VIDEO: The Lemon
VIDEO: Two Women
A Short Course in Brain Surgery
Dead Meat: Canada's health care system takes a hit