Jun 30 2007

A Patient Advocate’s Reaction to Sicko

…. is that Michael Moore has only exposed the very tip of the dysfunctional American health care system’s iceberg.

As confessed in yesterday’s blog post, I’ve never been a fan of Michael Moore’s. I think his previous works have been inflammatory and one sided. Not that he doesn’t raise awareness of issues, and not that he doesn’t cause dialogue that is helpful, because he does. Rather, because he takes facts and bloats them, and his audience walks away believing partial truths.

But for Sicko? He is inflammatory, and if I worked for a health insurer, I’d want to hide. And if I were an executive for a health insurance company, especially the “medical director” of a health insurance company, I would be embarrassed beyond belief.

But as far as whether his presentation was balanced — well — his story was no more unbalanced than reality. The reality of what healthcare in the US has become is so lopsided, that it’s falling into the deep unknown. If it’s any indication? I’ve never attended a movie that elicited applause, not just at the end, but in reaction to statements made during the movie, too. And whereas many had told me I would laugh, and on occasion, I did — but — I left with tears in my eyes.

I learned a few things, which I will present to you, although I have not yet confirmed them to be absolutely true. The scary part is, even if they are only half true, then they are still worth noting.

For example: one woman who used to be a health insurance sales person spoke of a 37 page document of “pre-existing conditions” which would automatically cause denial of coverage to an applicant. Another woman described how executives in health insurance companies get paid: the higher the rate of denial of coverage (not just in policies, but in pre-approvals for treatment), the higher the bonus. “Payment of any claim,” she explained, “is defined as a medical loss.”

One gentleman explained his former job as a health record spy — in effect, if someone made a claim the insurance company didn’t want to pay, it was up to him to comb through the previous medical records of the patient and use anything at all — ANYTHING — to create a case for denying a claim. Of course, the insured has no recourse. None. (By the way — this is a perfect reason for making sure your medical records are always correct.)

I’ve often wondered if there was a watershed moment in American history that caused the previously considered “good” system of healthcare to go awry. Moore explains it as a Nixonian decision. In 1971, then president Richard Nixon and his buddy Edgar Kaiser (of Kaiser Permanente fame) created a new approach to healthcare where denial of service became a profit center.

And then there is Moore’s statement that there are 4 times as many health insurance lobbyists in Washington as there are congress members. Can you guess who is paying for those lobbyists?

The last example of what I learned (although there is really quite a big more) is that Moore visits Canada, Great Britain, France and even Cuba, and claims that in those countries, where healthcare is a given, paid for by taxes, then provided at no additional cost to its citizens, people live 3 or 4 years longer than Americans on average. Even the Journal of the American Medical Association cited those statistics. In England, doctors earn more by keeping their patients healthy, too. Amazing.

So here are a few comments from your friendly patient advocate — now that I’ve had a few hours to think it over:

1. While Moore did a good job pointing out the foibles of our system as they relate to how medical care is paid for, he didn’t even attempt to talk about medical errors, misdiagnosis, drug-related problems, etc (although he mentions pharma as being almost as evil as insurance.)

2. As long as Washington politicians are bought and paid for by health insurance, nothing will change. As long as health insurance companies continue rewarding their top echelons with huge paychecks and bonuses, nothing will change.

3. I whole heartedly agree with some of his statements as they regard the services we are all entitled to because we are citizens of America and our communities: police, firefighters, public education, inexpensive postal services, parks, libraries. Why isn’t healthcare on that list? Well — for seniors who use Medicare, it is. And what about the other 47 million of us?

For the first 50+ years of my life, I never would have believed I could even think this thought, much less type it…. and based on the research I have done, all of it prior to seeing Sicko today….. I do believe American needs to move to universal healthcare. Don’t forget — you’re hearing this from a woman who has owned businesses, and believed in private enterprise and profit all her life….. but LIFE is the keyword here…. and because health insurance and big pharma have become so greedy, because that greed is costing lives, because the need of the masses to access better care is more important than the need of individuals to control…. yes…. I believe we need to create a healthcare model similar to our public education model.

Do I think it will be perfect? Heavens no. But if it parallels public education, then many MANY more will benefit, and for those who still believe private care is important — well — we have private schools, too, right?

Of all the statements that made me really think, and there were many, this is the one I will leave you with:

“You can judge a society by how it treats its worst…. and its best.”

Society, our politicians, and our American way of medical care is failing us. It’s time we patient stood up and made the noise necessary to invoke the change that’s needed.

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Read what others have said about Sicko:

R J Eskow in the Huffington Post

M Foust in Artvoice

The American Thinker

And to learn more about how those running for president have reacted: The LA Times

…. and see follow up blog posts from Every Patient’s Advocate,

What Sicko Doesn’t Tell Us and Why Sicko is Only the Tip of the Iceberg

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