Friday, August 28, 2009

Health Care Reform: lessons from Sicko


by Kathleen Kelly


You're denied.

You don't qualify for health care insurance.  What do you do now?  Or you have health insurance but once you become ill, your insurance company's loopholes can and will negate your coverage.

Medical bills are now the number one cause of bankruptcy and homelessness in America.  These daunting statistics are what keep me running circles (literally) on the elliptical at the gym.  Is is that I enjoy running and going nowhere? No, I'm fearful.  Scratch that, I'm petrified that I will become ill--that like my father I will become obese, have Type II diabetes, and experience complications from high blood pressure.  It's maddening since there are illnesses (cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's) and accidents for that matter that I have no control over.  If the current healthcare system in the United States was about providing acute, quality care for patients, I could rest easy.  But let's be honest, it's about the bottom line, it's emblematic of capitalism--it's about money and the millions that health insurance and pharmaceutical companies earn each minute of the day on the pain and suffering of average Americans.

Michael Moore's 2007 documentary "Sicko" is reminiscent of "Roger and Me"--the story of David (in this case, everyday working Americans) versus Goliath (the insurance companies and pharmaceutical giants--think Kaiser Permanente, Blue Cross, Blue Shield, and PhRMA).  What Moore stresses in this provocative, captivating, and historicizing account of how the American healthcare system got "off its rails" and privatized (in 1971 while we were in the midst of Vietnam--Albert Kaiser, Richard Nixon, and the Oval Office--you get the picture) is that not only do the 48 million uninsured in this country not have access to affordable let alone effective healthcare, the insured among us are living under the false security that no matter what ailments we suffer, we are "covered"; that we have access to all tests and treatments to improve our quality of life.

Guess again.  Moore casts a caustic light on the objectives and end goals of health insurance companies.  In his interview with Becky Malke, a health insurance consultant, the truth of the matter is damning to say the least.  It was her role to "weed out" the customers.  There are a multitude of conditions--the number would wrap around Becky's house many times according to this industry insider--that would exclude you from qualifying for health insurance.  And preexisting conditions--you can forget about healthcare coverage.  Just ask Maria Watanabe (Maria Watanabe vs. Blue Shield of California) whose surgery cost reimbursements were denied because she had failed to disclose a previous yeast infection.  If the treatment is "experimental" that will save your life, you'll denied access to this treatment.  If you condition is not deemed "life threatening" as in the case of a cancer survivor, who was not insured and seeking treatment since her cancer had returned; she was told to take some ibuprofen and go home.  Sarah Palin and Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) egregiously and irresponsibly speak about the nonexistent and fabricated (yes, nonexistent and fabricated) "death panels" in "Obamacare." Mrs. Palin, Mr. Grassley--look around you.  Avoidable deaths are rampant in the current, broken, and yes, corrupted system.  Cease and desist with your fear-mongering.

Michael Moore addresses such fear-mongering and lobbying within the throes of the 1994 President's Task Force on Healthcare headed by then FLOTUS Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Hillary demanded universal health coverage, a demand that was met with fierce, wrathful and condemnatory criticisms--Hillary was trying to unleash the "red menace" into God-fearing, capitalist America.  She was a Bolshevik, a statist, just call her Comrade Clintonovska.  Moore's voice becomes deflated though as he relates the cautionary tale of Hillary Rodham Clinton--once feared (not loved) by the health insurance industry, in her bid for the New York Senate seat, allied herself with the very people she had opposed only years earlier.  She and her political campaign profited from the unethical antics of this money-grubbing industry.

But surely even such a corrupted system would take care of our nation's heroes--heroes like the volunteer emergency responders who worked relentlessly at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks.  How did the U.S. health care system and politicians honor our heroes?  These volunteers were denied health care benefits and treatments for illnesses they sustained while working in the ruins of what were the World Trade Center towers.  John Graham, Willam Maher, and Ms. Reggie Cervantes were first responders whose ailments are debilitating--pulmonary fibrosis, post traumatic stress, and severe respiratory illnesses.  Yet these volunteers were denied health care coverage. As volunteers, the government maintains, they were not employees. Therefore, these emergency responders were ineligible for health care benefits, benefits paramount to their recovery from their individual illnesses.

Michael Moore, accompanied by Mr. Graham, Mr. Maher and Ms. Cervantes, sets out on his own "freedom flotilla" from Miami to Guatanamo Bay to acquire the same medical treatment that the enemy combatant detainees were receiving (minus the torture presumably).  Denied access to Gitmo, Moore and his compadres enter the Havana Hospital (yes, that Havana--the one in Cuba).  The inhalers and medications are so much cheaper in Cuba--Reggie's inhaler that costs $120 in the U.S. costs mere pocket change in Cuba.  John is able to get tests and scans that he could ill afford in the U.S. and the Cuban doctors provided him with a daily regimen; and Bill, having once ground his teeth down during his PTS-induced sleep, had a new set of teeth both set and fit.  His was a welcomed smile.  The land of Castro had come to our heroes' rescue.  Hmmm. . . . it makes you rethink those ill notions of socialized medicine, doesn't it?

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