Moore's new movie traces healthcare crisis to Nixon administration
Nick Juliano
Published: Tuesday June 19, 2007
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Michael Moore has a secret to share: The executives controlling America's healthcare industry don't really care about the health of Americans.

In his latest movie, SiCKO, which opens June 29, Moore uses personal stories from Americans who found themselves in financial ruin because of unwieldy medical bills, examples of superior free care available abroad and an examination of the pharmaceutical and health-insurance industries' political clout. RAW STORY attended an advanced screening of the film Monday in Washington.

The film's most interesting scene is an archived White House conversation between then-President Richard Nixon and his aide John Ehrlichman that Moore argues is the starting point of the modern healthcare complex. In the Feb. 7, 1971 recording -- part of the hundreds of hours of Nixon's secret White House tapes -- Ehrlichman explains "health maintenance organizations like Edward Kaiser's Permanente thing." Kaiser Permanente is now the nation's largest HMO.

"Edgar Kaiser is running his Permanente deal for profit. ... All the incentives are toward less medical care," Ehrlichman says to Nixon, according to a transcript. "The less care they give them, the more money they make."

Moore also documents the revolving door clogged by Capitol Hill aides and industry lobbyists and the huge sums of money insurance and pharmaceutical companies use to "buy" lawmakers, but the bulk of his movie is dedicated to personal, heart-wrenching vignettes from Americans whose health insurance denied them necessary care, such as a woman whose young daughter died after being denied care at a hospital not approved by her HMO.

Replaying the universal healthcare battles of the early 1990s, Moore fawns over historical footage of Hillary Clinton testifying on the hill and speaking in public about her healthcare proposal. He compares Conservatives' campaigning against "socialized medicine" to propagandists using "Red Menace" scare campaigns during the Cold War.

After her healthcare plan was defeated, Clinton's image morphed and she was no longer such a crusader for social change, Moore says. Noting that she was the No. 2 recipient of campaign donations from the health care industry, Moore says Clinton was "paid for her silence."

The solution Moore presents is simple: free healthcare for everyone, just like they have in Canada, Great Britain and France. Moore peppers his movie with interviews foreigners who affect appropriately flabbergasted looks as the filmmaker deadpans questions about the prices of their hospital stays.

Of course it wouldn't be a Michael Moore film without controversy and a little shocking footage, and SiCKO provides requisite doses of both. The film's opening scenes include a young man cleaning and stitching an open wound on his knee because he was without health insurance -- but, this film isn't about him, Moore reminds us.

In its most controversial sequence, Moore travels to Cuba in search of medical care for several rescue workers who worked at Ground Zero in the wake of 9/11. They are unable to receive care at home because of a collection of bureaucratic complications and injustices inherent in the US system, Moore explains.

The group's primary target is the Guantanamo Bay prison holding hundreds of "enemy combatants" who receive top-notch medical care, according to footage of Republican lawmakers boasting of the prison's facilities.

"They don't want any more than they're giving the evil-doers, nothing more," Moore says via bull-horn to a Guantanamo guard as the group approaches via boat.

Turned away, the group seeks care in one of Cuba's hospitals, with patients receiving tests, treatments and medication they were unable to afford in the US. The Treasury Department is currently investigating whether Moore violated US embargo of Cuba.

Although his latest film lacks any parking-garage confrontations with HMO executives pushing his camera from their face, Moore is able to paint a more vivid picture of the healthcare industry through the tearful stories of its victims.