My review from the July 30, 2007 issue of The American Conservative:
Michael Moore's comic polemical documentaries have done more for his net worth than for his political causes. He attacked greedy CEOs sending American factory jobs abroad in 1989's "Roger & Me," gun sales in 2002's "Bowling for Columbine," and President Bush's war in Iraq in 2004's "Fahrenheit 9/11," leaving him 0-for-3.
In "Sicko," he has his ripest target yet,
's ramshackle health care finance system. Having come down with lymphatic cancer in 1996, I am sympathetic to America 's bias against for-profit health insurance. I may still be here only because I had the kind of generous insurance that few employers provide these days. Moore
's centerpiece example is a young man battling cancer (at the same age as me) whose request for an expensive bone marrow transplant was denied. He died three weeks later. Moore blames his death on insurance company greed (although that brief interval suggests his condition was hopeless). If I'd needed a bone marrow transplant, I'd have wanted the law to align incentives by requiring my employer to buy both my health and life insurance from the same firm. The insurer would then have had to choose between paying my clinic or paying my widow. Moore
Strangely, "Sicko" misses much of our expensive but stressful system's black comedy, such as medical providers mailing out heart-attack inducing bills demanding we pay their zany list prices, apparently in the hope that an occasional senile patient might dutifully ante up rather than forward it to his insurer. For instance, after a two night hospital stay costing $2,000 (according to the rate my insurance company had already negotiated), the hospital billed me for $34,000.
Moore's self-promotion, disingenuousness, and leftist ideology leave his event movies being more about than about their ostensible subjects. "Sicko's" underlying goal appears to be to use our absurd health payment system to persuade us that socialism in general is superior to capitalism, that innately evil tumor on humanity. That's not a debate he's going to win, so he's distracting from the reality that medical insurance is a big exception to the rule that the profit motive works best. Moore
's faux populism gives him an excuse to dumb down "Sicko" and not bother to explain why the competitive enterprise system that's good at providing us with, say, life insurance is bad at medical insurance. Moore
In truth, our dysfunctional tradition of employer-provided health insurance isn't a result of the free market. Instead, it emerged during WWII as companies slid past wage-price controls by offering free fringe benefits to attract workers. In other words, it began as corporate liberality evading government-mandated stinginess. Of course, you won't learn that from "Sicko."
The documentary's lack of economic sophistication could be tolerated if his audience really was as uneducated as
implies. Yet, despite his trademark obesity and bad clothes, Moore 's blue-collar Joe shtick is just an act, as he showed in his gun control movie "Bowling for Dollars." Moore Moore's fans -- urban white liberals -- want gun control to disarm the minority criminals who threaten them, but they aren't going to admit that, so concocted a fantasy for them about how dangerous those heavily armed rural rednecks are. Moore
lovingly shows us in "Sicko" that the French upper middle class live more stylishly than us American slobs. And he seems most at home chatting with another pseudo-prole, the grand old man of English leftism, Tony Benn, who used to be Anthony Wedgwood Benn, the 2nd Viscount Stansgate. Moore
When Moore ventures abroad to tells us about the wonderfulness of the government-paid systems in Canada, Britain, France, and, yes, Cuba, his satirical eye deserts him as he descends into complete credulity: It's free! Unlimited care, free!
Sadly, nothing can be unlimited. When I had cancer, I made my insurance pay for second, third, and fourth opinions. I hired an oncologist as my consultant to help me evaluate the clinical trials offered by three top lymphoma specialists. With his aid, I became the first patient with intermediate-grade non-Hodgkins lymphoma to be treated with a radical new monoclonal antibody that has since become a multi-billion dollar per year drug. I've been fine for the decade since.
Today, I suspect, few HMO's -- or, contra
, governments -- would pay for such a lavish (but effective) plan of attack. Moore
's miscues, health insurance is the best domestic issue the Democrats possess. Why let them have it? Moore
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.