Since opening a week ago, Michael Moore’s latest documentary has focused unprecedented attention on the U.S. healthcare system. The film has brought angry protests outside movie theaters. Standing ovations from audiences. And provoked angry debate in the nation’s editorial pages. It has also done fairly well at the box office, drawing far more viewers to theaters than many experts had predicted. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film finished second in per-theater gross last weekend, bringing in $11.3 million at 700 screens across the country — rather a respectable showing for a movie that specializes in disturbing subjects that Americans would generally rather not talk about. So far, Sicko has generated exactly the kind of controversy that the critics predicted it would. Moore has already had to deny that he is planning a trip to Iran next month to view the film at an Islamic film festival. (The story turned out to be a rumor spread by conservative opponents. The filmmaker says he received an invitation from the Iranians but declined to accept.) This week he was on CNN, lambasting the network for its healthcare coverage and getting into a near shouting match on The Larry King Show with medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta over some of the stats used in the film.
Moore went on to accuse the network of colluding with the film’s
opponents, pointing out that one of Gupta’s researchers, Paul Keckley,
the former head of Vanderbilt’s Center for Evidence Based Medicine and
a current Deloitte consultant, has done a lot of work for big health
insurers and pharma companies. (Something that could be said of a fair number of people working in the field, as THCB readers know all too well.) Could Keckley be censoring the network’s coverage? Moore wondered out loud to himself and not-very-subtly.
The theatrics aren’t a surprise to anyone who has followed Moore throughout his
career. Not surprisingly, the attack drew a rather hurt denial from Gupta on his
Meanwhile, Moore is living up to his reputation for drawing attention to himself. Earlier this week, the filmmaker published a leaked internal memo on his web site allegedly authored by
the Blue Cross communications department. The document reviewed the film – acknowledging that the documentary is a slickly done piece of work. [Follow the link and scroll down to read the whole thing.] The review begins as follows:
"You would have to be dead to be unaffected by Moore’s movie, he is an effective
storyteller. In Sicko Moore presents a collage of injustices by selecting
stories, no matter how exceptional to the norm, that present the health
insurance industry as a set of organizations and people dedicated to denying
claims in the name of profit. Denial for treatments that are considered
"experimental" is a common story, along with denial for previous conditions, and
denial for application errors or omissions. Individual employees from Humana and
other insurers are interviewed who claim to have actively pursued claim denial
as an institutionalized goal in the name of profit. While Humana and Kaiser
Permanente are demonized, the BlueCross and BlueShield brands appear, separately
and together, visually and verbally, with such frequency that there should be no
doubt that whatever visceral reaction his movie stirs will spill over onto the
Blues brands in every market."
Will the public hold health care providers and insurers accountable for the lapses Moore documents in his film? That remains to be seen. For many Americans who haven’t been paying attention, the documentary is undoubtedly a wake up call. There seems little doubt that people will start to ask more questions when they walk into their doctor’s office or when they sit down to pick an insurer, which is certainly enough to make some people uncomfortable. There is also little doubt that the film has added to the already fiercely burning debate between supporters of a free market based system and a government run universal healthcare system.
PODCAST REVIEW: Here’s THCB contributor Dr. Eric Novack’s take on the film from his radio show last Sunday. Two thumbs up? Er, No. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2. Eric and I will get into this a little later on, we hope!RELATED: "Sicko and Healthcare Reform", Maggie Mahar’s piece on THCB drew thousands of readers and led to excellent discussion.