Michael Moore’s new movie, SiCKO, should be called “SKiPO,” since it skips over so many vital facts en route to government medicine.
An engaging and surprisingly funny Moore explores a grim topic: America’s problematic health-care system. Moore effectively diagnoses one of its key ailments. HMOs and other managed-care companies often earn billions by just saying, “No” to victims of grave illnesses. Moore introduces us to real men, women, and children who this industry has failed.
Bankrupted by cancer- and coronary-related medical bills, Donna and Larry Smith move into their grown daughter’s home storage room. An Oregon man accidentally saws off two fingertips and must re-construct either his middle finger for $60,000 or his ring finger for only $12,000. Tracy Pierce waits for his insurer to approve a promising bone-marrow transplant to treat his kidney disease. The company refuses, and he soon dies, widowing his bride, Julie, and leaving Tracy Jr., 13, fatherless.
These are the bitter fruits of America’s private, third-party-payer system. Not quite socialist, not quite capitalist, it creates endless distortions as review boards and other gatekeepers essentially hide doctors from patients.
Moore and other universal-health advocates would exacerbate this problem by making Uncle Sam the ultimate third-party payer.
While promoting this prescription, Moore overlooks many facts that would balance his otherwise well-crafted film. For now, its leftward tilt makes the Leaning Tower of Pisa look like the Washington Monument.
‐ Milton Friedman observed, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Sadly, there’s no such thing as free health care, either.
Universal health care’s finances must come from somewhere. “Somewhere” turns out to be taxpayers’ pockets.
Britons, Canadians, and Frenchmen purchase their “free” coverage through their taxes. In America, 44.7 percent of health expenditures came from tax-funded government spending in 2004, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In Canada, that figure was 69.8 percent; while in France it was 78.4. Fully 86.3 percent of British health spending was taxpayer-funded.
These countries also endure high overall tax burdens, largely due to government medicine. In 2005, OECD reports, taxes as a share of GDP stood at 41.2 percent in Canada, 41.9 percent in Britain, and 50.9 percent in France. America has it relatively easy, with just 31.7 percent of GDP devoured by taxes.
Of course, for many Americans, the trade off is lower taxes vs. higher payments for health insurance. This cost varies according to employment contracts, health circumstances, and more. Still, “free” medicine is as beautiful and realistic as a unicorn.
‐ Moore claims 50 million Americans lack health insurance. The Moving Picture Institute’s Stuart Browning challenges that oft-repeated “fact.” In a case of dueling documentaries, Browning’s nine-minute film, Uninsured in America, deconstructs the more common “45 million uninsured” soundbite and finds that 9 million of these people earn over $75,000 annually and can buy coverage but don’t. Some 18 million are healthy, 18-34-year-old “young invincibles” whose priorities exclude insurance.
“If I’m out eating, I want to eat good food,” Faye Chao, 26 and uninsured, told Browning. “There’ve been times I’ve been in New York, and I’m spending at least $800 a month just going out.”
These Americans also turn to local clinics for treatment when necessary.
For instance, Chandra Nalaani, 27 and uninsured, visited San Francisco’s Lyon-Martin Women’s Health Services.
“I got an annual exam,” Nalaani said. “They tested me for a bunch of things…In my case, because I wasn’t making much, it was free.”
Of the uninsured, 14 million fail to enroll in Medicaid and other low-income health programs for which they are eligible.
Even if these numbers somewhat overlap, Browning estimates that just eight million Americans chronically lack coverage. Moore’s 50-million-man standing army of the uninsured thus is a Potemkin force.
‐ While Moore glows like a Jack-O-Lantern about the wonders of the British National Health Service, Gordon Brown sees massive room for improvement. Just days before becoming Great Britain’s brand-new Prime Minister, Brown told Labour Party colleagues on June 24:
From everything I have seen going around the country, and from everything I’ve heard, we need to do better, and the NHS will be my immediate priority. We need to and will do better at insuring access for patients at the hours that suit them. We’ll be better at getting basics of good hygiene and cleanliness right. Better also at helping people to manage their own health. Better at ensuring patients are treated with dignity at all times in the NHS. Better at providing the wider range of services now needed by a growing elderly population. And while implementing our essential reforms, better at listening to and valuing our staff.
‐ Moore’s insinuation aside, HMOs are not solely the brainchild of that oft-flogged bete noir, Richard Milhous Nixon. In fact, the HMO Act of 1973’s sponsor was none other than Senator Edward Moore Kennedy (D., Mass.). In 1978, as the Institute for Health Freedom recalled, Kennedy sang HMOs’ praises:
As the author of the first HMO bill ever to pass the Senate, I find this spreading support for HMOs truly gratifying…HMOs have proven themselves again and again to be effective and efficient mechanisms for delivering health care of the highest quality.
HMOphobes, including today’s Ted Kennedy, somehow fail to mention that HMOs once were the Left’s answer to America’s earlier medical challenges.
‐ SiCKO dramatically features a man stitching shut a deep cut on his own leg. Though he lacked insurance, this was unnecessary.
“Every American hospital is required to provide emergency care to all comers, regardless of ability to pay,” says Cato Institute healthcare analyst Michael Cannon. The 1986 federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act makes such services mandatory for anyone arriving within 250 yards of a U.S. emergency room.
Thus, a trauma surgeon would have sutured this man’s wound. Yes, the hospital either would have absorbed this procedure’s cost or spread it across the bills of the insured (another cause of medical inflation). These cross-subsidies notwithstanding, he would have received professional treatment.
‐ Moore shows Michiganders driving into Canada for “free” medical attention. What he leaves unseen are the Canadians who come to America for treatment. Canada, along with only Cuba and North Korea, forbids its citizens from paying doctors for private medical treatment. In a kind of therapeutic Underground Railroad, Vancouver’s Timely Medical Alternatives, Inc. helps Canadians avoid lengthy medical waiting lists by arranging for their treatment in American hospitals. It says its clients can be operated on within seven days through its U.S. partners rather than six to ten months under Canadian government medicine.
“Five or six years ago, seven out of ten Canadian provinces, representing roughly 95 percent of the population, had contracts with American companies for cancer care provided in the United States,” says the Manhattan Institute’s Dr. David Gratzer, a Toronto physician. “Today, some patients from over-subscribed Canadian urban medical centers are sent eight hours away to underused rural medical facilities for cancer care, much like someone going from Manhattan to Buffalo for chemotherapy.”
‐ Another drawback of high-tax-funded “free” government medicine is its limited modern technology. Cato’s Michael Cannon and Michael Tanner found that in 2000, there were 13.6 CT Scanners in America per million people. There were 8.2 such devices per million Canadians and 6.5 per million Britons. Lithotriptors use sound waves to pulverize kidney stones and gall stones. While America had 1.5 of them per-million citizens, Canada and Britain had, respectively, 0.4 and 0.2.
The paucity of such equipment creates lines and delays. Vancouver’s Fraser Institute estimated a median wait in 2006 of 4.3 weeks for a CT scan and 10.3 weeks for an MRI.
SiCKO’s most revealing footage captures Moore’s pilgrimage to Karl Marx’s grave in London’s Highgate Cemetery. Single-payer countries “live in a world of ‘we,’ not ‘me,’” Moore says. “We’ll never fix anything until we get that one basic thing right.” Moore deserves credit for being so amazingly candid about his ideas’ truly socialist roots.
Still, a major conundrum haunts this clamor for the kind of government medicine that would make Marx misty.
While workers theoretically would own the means of medication under universal care, in reality, politicians would be in charge. The same liberals who denounce FEMA and Walter Reed Army Medical Center (a single-payer showcase) for their embarrassing incompetence want Uncle Sam to conduct bypass surgeries, deliver babies, and perform vasectomies.
How puzzling. America has just one federal government. Sometimes the sensitive, caring, weepy Democrats run things; Sometimes the cold, racist, iron-hearted Republicans rule. Universal health care would mean that American medicine – from the Left’s perspective – now would be in the scheming hands of those who “lied us into war” and gleefully drowned poor blacks in New Orleans’ attics after Katrina. If Hillary Clinton had nationalized health care in 1993, American hospitals and clinics would be controlled today by Dr. Dick “Double-Barrel” Cheney and his boss, Chimpy McHitler, M.D.
If that doesn’t shiver the timbers of government-medicine supporters, they should visualize Dr. Rudy Giuliani with a scalpel in one hand and the universal health-care budget in the other.
Unless America scraps elections and simply yields power permanently to bleeding-heart Democrats, Michael Moore’s fans should remember that every two to four years, universal health care could fall into the clutches of cruel Republicans.
Government-medicine boosters could rue the day their collectivist dream came true.