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Critical Condition:
How Health Care in America Became Big Business--and Bad Medicine
by Donald L. Barlett, James B. Steele

(in Hardcover from Amazon)
. "Sicko"

How many people could amuse you by exposing the venal disgrace that is the American health care system while focusing a beam of light on the dark, powerful forces that have put the health of HMOs, hospitals and CEOs ahead of their clients? Dr. Michael Moore, that good old boy from Flint, Michigan, is in.

There's a reason why Moore's preceding documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," with a worldwide take of $222 million, is the highest grossing documentary in film history. It has to do with his intelligence, his sly prowess in building a complex case and, above all, his wit and skill in dramatizing his subject enough to elevate a polemic to the level of entertainment. A populist warrior on his cinematic game.

With Moore, a documentary is never merely a series of talking heads, which is pretty much the standard and time-honored approach. Instead, he employs a considerble range of cinema technique with music, archival footage, intrapersonal groupings and much more. He's become a man we now know as a social adventurer who can use irony and humor like a scalpel to strip away layers of injustice. He turns up evidence to support his thesis like few others.

Besides the fact that he goes to extraordinary lengths to find cases with particular impact and with unusually expressive personal horror stories, he conducts the presentation like a maestro, probing, inspiring, swinging the baton, asking the right questions. The instruments of his symphonically assembled condemnation of the unsupportive health industry and its pasha-rich CEO's is a summation of one of the most corrosive practices in an America where the less fortunate are victimized by the insurers they put their trust and faith in to keep them healthy... and alive.

What else can you call it when someone who has been paying premiums with an HBO gets turned down when circumstance require them to put in a claim and the company researches their entire health history in order to find something they may have neglected to mention on their application form? Any excuse possible is the industry mantra, duly applied by hired medical experts doing the dirty work and earning bonuses according to how much money they save the company. Isn't it better to use those dollars to line the pockets of the already wealthy directors and CEO's? It's a scam, but it's not illegal, thanks in great part to Nixon and the industry cronies who helped put him in the White House.

Moore takes us to Canada to fully inspect the virtues and benefits of their National Health Service, probing for any sign of weakness or the accusations of inferiority promoted by the far right. But that unsupported propaganda about long waits and systemic inadequacies just aren't found. What Moore finds is just the opposite.

He takes us, as well, to France and to Cuba to put a nail in the coffin of such self-beneficial spin and propaganda, and shows why North America's life spans and birth rates are so far down the list in comparison with far less wealthy countries. Even some non-democratic basket-case economies do better than America in caring for their people. Why is that?!

This film, it seems to me, is incendiary and gives hope that it may provide an unignorable basis for a sea change in industry practices where the only completely dependable insurance is what the health insurers provide themselves to protect their bottom line. It arouses hatred for the venality behind contributing to campaign funds and then sending in a troop of hired guns to lobby indebted congressman to toe the industry line. It's an unbeatable formula in our leading industrial nation: padding political purses pays off well.

Perhaps the light this film casts into the dark recesses of the hallowed halls on the hill and the buyable pols who operate there will provide the impetus to wean senate and house supporters off their addiction to the fat rewards they count on from the drug lobby.

The clear and convincing proof of other countries' ability to treat everyone, anytime -- for free -- out of tax dollars; the ability of Canadian, French and Cuban doctors to treat everyone with an illness or injury without cowtowing to private industry's corrupt incentives -- is not only a lesson in reality, it may well become a helpful tool for the democrat who wins the White House in 2008. That person will have a best chance to right the wrongs this film so convincingly makes a case for.

"Sicko" is a strong closing argument for the people vs. the elite. The jury of voters who see this film, once they've absorbed the dose of reality they've just seen and put aside the anger it arouses, will be deliberating over whom to entrust their health futures with: those on the side of health reform or those who want to retain their slice of the money pit.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written, perceptive
This review will influence me to read more by and recommend this reviewer
Site rating: 1

I am a life long democrat who can not understand who these people are who put themselves and their families ahead of the public welfare in terms of doing what is for the public good so I am an activist for this movie and health care for all in the US. This is a well laid out site and I will use it again.

                                                           ~~ Ann Lacey E. 
[Ed. note: As much as she like the review and the site, this reader gave it a rating of 1. Did she mean 10? Hmmm. In any event, her thoughtful remarks are appreciated.]

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