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Sicko and the Politics of Health Care
Good Movie, Now Where’s the Movement?
by RALPH NADER

He sat there dejected and indignant-twenty years ago-in our office. His position as editor of the monthly muckraking magazine, Mother Jones, had broken up. He was looking for a job that would allow him to bring his conscience to work.

We gave him a place and support to start Moore’s Weekly-a media critique.

Michael Moore has gone a long way since that short-lived publication. He went on to do documentary films, starting with Roger and Me-meaning of course, Michael Moore.

Rich, famous and Hollywood chic, Moore will open his latest film-’Sicko’ in theatres around the country on June 29, 2007. To many of those who have already seen this indictment and conviction of the corporations that sell health care under an array of tricky conditions, it is his best move yet.

He was in Washington, D.C. last week, for a preview at the large Uptown Theatre and for testimony before a House Committee. The media followed him with a frenzy hitherto reserved for Paris Hilton.

But Michael Moore is no Paris Hilton from any dimension you wish to choose. He is a heavyweight reformer, pitching his film toward full Medicare for everyone. This also means displacing the health insurance industry the way Medicare partially did in the mid-Sixties for the elderly.

"I think one movie can make a difference;.I believe it will be a catalyst for the type of real change people want," Moore told the New York Times.

Great movies and documentaries raise people’s latent indignation levels-for a short time. Norma Rae, The China Syndrome and The Grapes of Wrath had this effect. But films do not usually move either people or legislators to action. Their effect does not reach enough people. Their urgent 2 hour impact tends to diminish quickly, as compared with the omnipresent and powerful corporate or commercial interests determined to preserve the status quo.

Will ‘Sicko’ be any different? Certainly the giant HMOs, hospital chains and drug companies are firmly entrenched with all the sinews of power that have left this country, alone among western nations, without health care for all. They have endured easily many mainstream print and television exposés (see the New York Times, AP, 60 Minutes and the nightly evening news, for example) year after year.

Authoritative reports documenting over $200 billion a year in computerized billing fraud and abuse or the loss of 18,000 American lives yearly due to the unaffordability of health care (The Institute of Medicine) bounce off this two trillion dollar industry like marshmallows.

Having been a taught community organizer in Michigan, (see the new book, Citizen Moore by Roger Rapaport) Moore has prepared with all this in mind. He allied himself with the great California Nurses Association and their nationwide colleagues to demonstrate in favor of the film, contact legislators and other large unions.

The anticipatory media for the movie have been generous; citing the U.S. government’s move against Moore for what it claims was an unauthorized trip to Cuba. Right wing think tanks, funded by this hyper-profitable, subsidized industry, pour out inane rebuttals and offer quotes against Moore for reporters.

Unlike for other social justice movies, there is even a bill in Congress, H.R. 676 with 74 cosponsoring legislators, led by Cong. John Conyers (Dem. Mich.), to establish full Medicare for all.

That is a number of lawmakers considerably less that those who signed on to a similar bill in 1993.

There are 17 million more Americans uninsured today than in that year, totaling nearly 48 million without coverage in 2006. So you see where that trend is heading.

If Moore is serious about getting "real change," as he phrases his goal, he will have to make at least two more contributions. First, he will need to make a comprehensive effort to get many of the 6 million or more people, who will see the film, to sign up as they enter or leave the theatres so that they can be given a chance to connect with each other for a cohesive change constituency.

Secondly, some of the millions he will make from this movie should be put into a full time lobbying organization in Washington and back in the Congressional districts to press for enactment of H.R. 676.

With all his super-rich Hollywood contacts and admirers, Moore should be able to multiply this proposed group’s budget several fold. Michael can even call it ‘Moore’s Miracle!’

RALPH NADER is the author of The Seventeen Traditions