"There's no doubt that a documentary by someone of Michael Moore's stature will help the world see the deeply humane principles of Cuban society."
-- Jose Ramon Balaguer, Cuban Health Minister
Michael Moore has said he wants to make movies from which people emerge saying, "I don't believe what I just saw." He has certainly hit the mark with Sicko. His latest attack on the American way of life is, literally, incredible -- a typical combination of bent facts and leftist grandstanding. It's not that health-care policy is not an important issue in any modern society, it's that Mr. Moore does not address it in a serious way.
According to Sicko, what is scandalous about America's greater reliance on private health insurance is not that so many have no insurance, but that the system makes its profits by systematically denying the needs of its clients. Mr. Moore parades a pageant of woe across the screen: couples who have lost their homes, individuals who have lost their limbs, mothers who have lost their babies -- all allegedly due to the greed and heartlessness of a profit-based system that has the Washington political establishment bought and sold.
The American system is contrasted with the socialized medical nirvana that allegedly exists in Canada, Britain, France and, most remarkably, Cuba. In these government-run systems, wait times are short, the most technically elaborate care is instantly available and doctors make house calls.
Mr. Moore plays the heartstrings like a virtuoso. He doesn't just find sick Americans, he finds sick Americans who became sick as a result of working at Ground Zero in the wake of 9/11. He doesn't just find health care for them, he finds it in Cuba! The scene of him standing on a boat in Guantanamo Bay, demanding via loud hailer that his American heroes be given the same medical attention as al-Qaeda detainees, is a classic. When that-- obviously-- doesn't work, he takes his shipmates to Fidel Castro's Communist paradise for treatment, which is instantly, lavishly, and cheaply available. Somehow, Cuba's poverty and political repression don't make it on camera.
However, the ultimate paradise portrayed by Mr. Moore is not Canada, England or Cuba. It is France, and, in particular, Paris. To refute the notion that state care goes with high taxes, a couple are brought forth who live in circumstances that would not shame Donald Trump, but whose combined income is reportedly US$8,000 a month. The French government even sends someone round to do new mothers' laundry! Mr. Moore's take on life in Paris is about as credible as that of a far better recent movie, Pixar's Ratatouille, in which a talented rodent establishes that "anyone can cook." Mr. Moore suggests that anyone can design a health-care system. Only those money-grubbing private health-care providers stand in the way.
The fundamental problem, according to Mr. Moore, is that there is not enough "we" in the American system. The solution is simple: "true" democracy, in which the land of milk and antibiotics is achieved simply by demanding it -- screw human nature and history. To bolster this view, Mr. Moore brings on screen Tony Benn, the former English peer and Labour Cabinet minister who, significantly, is very much yesterday's man in his own country. The French system, too, is praised for its tendency to take to the streets. All this is opposed to an American electorate reputedly kept in its place by fear.
There are profound issues at the root of Sicko that demand to be addressed, but aren't. If private health care is so awful, why do so many want it? Are there no preventable deaths or examples of malpractice under socialized systems? Moreover, the "right wing" argument is not against the universal provision of basic health insurance, it is against the state monopoly of health provision. Under a purely tax-based, state-administered system, rationing and lengthening wait times become inevitable. States systems also tend to become top heavy in administration, and to provide more scope for public-sector unions who are more concerned with their members' ease than with patients' welfare.
The notion that profit should be made out of treating the sick seems to jar with a powerful belief that delivering care is a humanitarian duty. But the fact is that the self-interested principle that famously motivates "the butcher, the brewer and the baker," to the benefit of their customers, also motivates the physician, the nurse and the hospital owner/administrator.
The basic moral issue is that under a purely socialized system your body, and your life, is no longer your own. The fantasy that lies behind Michael Moore's movie is that of the caring and competent state that eschews self-interest and provides efficiently for all its citizens' health needs. Where such delusions end up is not in the airbrushed fantasy of Sicko, but in the nightmare reality of Cuba.