‘Sicko’ plays fast and loose with the facts

Michael Moore’s new movie, “Sicko,” should be called “Skipo,” since it skips over so many facts en route to government medicine.

An engaging and surprisingly funny Moore explores a grim topic: America’s problematic health-care system. HMOs and other managed-care companies often earn billions by just saying no to the gravely ill. Moore introduces us to real men, women and children who this industry has failed.

Bankrupted by cancer- and coronary-related medical bills, Donna and Larry Smith move into their grown daughter’s home-storage room. An Oregonian accidentally saws off two fingertips and must re-construct either his middle finger for $60,000 or his ring finger for only $12,000. Tracy Pierce waits for his insurer to approve a promising bone-marrow transplant to treat his kidney disease. The company refuses, and he soon dies, widowing his bride, Julie, and leaving Tracy Jr., 13, fatherless.

These are the bitter fruits of America’s private, third-party-payer system. Not quite socialist, not quite capitalist, it creates endless distortions as review boards and other gatekeepers essentially hide doctors from patients.

Moore and other universal-health advocates would exacerbate this problem by making Uncle Sam the ultimate third-party payer.

While promoting this prescription, Moore overlooks many facts that would balance his otherwise well-crafted film. For now, its leftward tilt makes the Leaning Tower of Pisa look like the Washington Monument.

— Milton Friedman observed, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Sadly, there’s no such thing as free health care, either.

Britons, Canadians and Frenchmen purchase their “free” coverage through their taxes. In America, 44.7 percent of health expenditures came from tax-funded government spending in 2004, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports. In Canada, that figure was 69.8 percent; while in France it was 78.4. Fully 86.3 percent of British health spending was taxpayer-funded.

— Moore claims that 50 million Americans lack health insurance. In the Moving Picture Institute’s nine-minute film, “Uninsured in America,” Stuart Browning deconstructs the more common “45 million uninsured” sound bite and finds that 9 million of these people earn over $75,000 annually and can buy coverage but don’t (freemarketcure.com). Some 18 million are healthy, 18-34-year-old “young invincibles” whose priorities exclude insurance. Another 14 million fail to enroll in Medicaid and other low-income health programs for which they are eligible. Even if these numbers somewhat overlap, Browning estimates that just 8 million Americans chronically lack coverage.

— Moore shows Michiganders driving into Canada for “free” medical attention. What he leaves unseen are the Canadians who come to America for treatment. Canada, along with only Cuba and North Korea, forbids its citizens from privately paying doctors for treatment. In a kind of therapeutic Underground Railroad, Vancouver’s Timely Medical Alternatives, Inc. arranges for Canadians to be treated in American hospitals. Thus its clients can be operated on within seven days rather than six to 10 months under Canadian government medicine.

— The Cato Institute’s Michael Cannon and Michael Tanner found that, in 2000, there were 13.6 CT scanners in America per million people. There were 8.2 such devices per million Canadians and 6.5 per million Britons. Lithotriptors use sound waves to pulverize kidney stones and gall stones. While America had 1.5 of them per million citizens, Canada and Britain had, respectively, 0.4 and 0.2.

The most revealing footage in “Sicko” captures Moore’s pilgrimage to Karl Marx’s grave in London’s Highgate Cemetery. Praise Moore for being so candid about his ideas’ truly socialist roots.

Still, a major conundrum haunts this clamor for the kind of government medicine that would make Marx misty.

America has just one federal government. Sometimes the sensitive, caring, weepy Democrats run things. Sometimes the cold, racist, iron-hearted Republicans rule. Universal health care would mean that American medicine — from the left’s standpoint — now would be in the scheming hands of those who “lied us into war” and gleefully drowned poor blacks in New Orleans’ attics after Katrina. If Hillary Rodham Clinton had nationalized health care in 1993, American hospitals and clinics would be controlled today by Dr. Dick “Double-Barrel” Cheney and his boss, Chimpy McHitler, M.D.

Unless America scraps elections and simply yields power permanently to bleeding-heart Democrats, Moore’s fans should remember that every two to four years, universal health care could fall into the clutches of cruel Republicans.

Government-medicine boosters could rue the day their collectivist dream came true.

(New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. E-mail him at deroy.murdock(at)gmail.com.)


  1. Jeffers

    Deroy is right on target. As price and service become separated, both expense and quality of service suffer. When my services are separated from my payment, I want all I can get.

    The real solution is for individuals to purchase insurance only for emergency type care, not HMO type coverage. Then we all become cost conscious.

    You want proof? Price out elective procedures for things (other than vanity plastic surgery). Procedures are outpatient, quick, and reasonable.

    Our scientists and engineers are quite capable of inventing medical procedures we cannot collectively afford. Do you really want the government to ration it?

    Do the drug companies need to become more regulated? Yes. While they accept a great deal of risk, they should not be allowed to sell anywhere outside the US for less than we get their products. Purchase agreements by governments completely warp the “free market” for drugs.

    But do not stop them from some reward for the large and long term risk they undertake.

  2. Paolo

    Haven’t seen the Michael Moore documentary yet, so I have to just offer general thoughts on health care.

    At the heart of the problem is the common assumption that everyone has a “right” to healthcare, no matter the expense. Need a hundred thousand dollar heart operation? It’s your right–scot free!

    When someone talks about a “right” TO something–they usually refer to a right to get something for nothing; that is, they are moochers and looters.

    Medical insurance would be affordable if, like other insurance, it were designed to cover catastrophic expenses, with the insurance consumer expected to cover expenses up to as high a deductible as they can afford.

    We don’t buy automobile insurance and expect it to cover oil changes, new batteries, and new tires. But because we have a “right” to “free” medical care, we expect coverage right from the first dollar. This, I submit, is crazy.

  3. Ardie

    Deroy Murdock claims that Moore has overlooked many facts. So what facts are those? Do they come from the HMOs or CDC? It is also interesting to observe that Murdock hasn’t really claimed Moore’s facts are wrong.

    The only fact I have seen Murdock submit is that he supports corporatist state medicine where goverment and corporations write laws to ScREW over the American public which is SiCKO.

    CNN also checked out Moore’s movie. Their analysis found “‘Sicko’ numbers mostly accurate”.

  4. Jim C

    Paolo , uh , what , who said anything about ” free healthcare ” ? Its called “universal ” health care , you know like the rest of the modern world has . It works like this , everybody pays a certain amount of their earnings into a common healthcare system . That money is then used to finance healthcare for all , kind of like the 37 ( I just recently heard the number ) countries that are ahead of us in health outcomes and pay on avarage half what we do for it . I know , I know , there are some problems , like what are all of those upper management types going to do when they’re no longer able to rip us off for 10 , 20 , 30 , 40 ,million or more a year in salary . Never fear , theres always helpless old ladies and orphens to rip off , so they’ll be OK , they will find some other way to steal . The drug companys may have to have bake sales or something when their profits are pared down to a measily 10 or 15% percent from the industry leading 25 to 27% they now make . They’ll still be able to use college research ( just like they do now ) and claim ” ha , ha , chuckle ” that their spending huge amounts on research ( its actually 3rd behind adverising and no.1 profits ) . It will be a shock for the manly man , up by your bootstraps types , like say george bush . You independent cowboys can always go out into the woods and wrestle a bear or maybe let your mother remove a splinter with a pin . But there are quite a few of us that would like to join the rest of the civilized world and make sure that everyone in our country has healthcare , yes , as a right .

  5. Cheshirekatz

    Free healthcare??? We are not talking about that. The problem is that we are paying and paying and paying for less and less and less. Our health care system is broken because it is profit driven. Profit driven has some good points as long as the insurance industry can be trust to control their greed and not kill the goose (subscribers) that lays the golden eggs (premiums). Well, gee, it looks like they can’t be trusted. And us taxpayers are already paying for all the shortfalls that the greedy goose killers are leaving, either through government programs or charitable giving.

  6. shonen

    I do wish people would stop lying about universal health care. Everyone is covered here in Canada and the only waiting we do is for elective surgery. You Americans have to wait for that too. Here in Canada we believe that everyone, including black people and our native peoples, have the right to good health care. The USA simply does not want to treat their blacks and Indians, not to mention poor white trash, with any kind of decency. Bigotry, pure and simple.

  7. pondering_it_all

    Mr. Murdock’s main problem with Sicko is that he hates Moore’s politics. Anybody who visits Marx’s grave must be 100% wrong about everything: Moore likes apple pie, therefore apple pie must be banned!

    Actually it is Mr. Murdock’s article that is fast and loose with the facts. For just a few examples:

    1) Canadians come to the US for medical care…But pretty much all of that “care” consists of elective or cosmetic procedures like facelifts. Their national healthcare won’t pay for such stuff, AND IT SHOULDN’T!

    2) American health care is superior because we don’t have to wait for medical procedures, like they do in Canada…Which is true if you are a rich person paying cash or have some fantastic executive health plan that sends you to the Mayo Clinic. Most of us in the US who do have medical insurance or HMO membership DO have to wait until our insurer feels good and ready to approve expensive procedures, and many die waiting!

    3) Most Americans are covered by medical insurance…But the second they get sick their insurers will find a loophole to deny them treatment, like claiming they have a pre-existing condition that is not covered, and then will cancel their coverage. This is NOT insurance, it is a con game!

    All we really need to fix the American system is the organization of each state’s population into one massive insurance group. If insurers want to sell coverage to one of those groups, then they have to offer rates and gauranteed coverage like they do for large businesses now. If they screw over their clients, then they lose the state pool business.

    There are plenty of providers, facilities, and equipment to cover every single person in America. There is a special place reserved in Hell for fear-mongers who try to convince us that we can’t heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the poor. Don’t take my word for it, read Matthew 25:31-46 and see for yourself.

  8. rickh1954

    As a Canadian, I have seen both sides of our healthcare system.

    I had an Aunt who waited far too long for hip replacement surgery. If I was able, I would have gladly paid a premium to see the surgery done sooner. Unfortunately that is not an option in Canada.

    More recently, both my daughter and sister have been treated for cancer. Fortunately, my daughter was given the “all clear” after surgery. My sister however still has a year or so of therapy ahead of her. From my perspective, both of them were treated in a timely fashion, with the best of medical care.

    I am not an American, so I can’t speak for how things would have gone in the US. I do think it is unfortunate however when we look at the two systems as though this were a competition, where winner takes all.

    Would it not be more sensible to look at things pragmatically, rather than from a partisan point of view? There are things that can and should be changed in all healthcare systems. I have little patience for the attitude that “the way we do it is the only correct way”, whether the person talking is a socialist or a die hard free marketer.

  9. scottg

    Insurance companies control healthcare in the United States.

    All of you should go ahead and read your entire health insurance policy (which can be anywhere from 35 to 75 pages long).
    Then figure out if you are actually covered for anything that could happen to you.
    I guarantee that none of you could.

    Or better yet call your insurance company and see what they have to say.
    They will refer you back to your insurance policy and then leave it up to you to figure it all out.

    Some people in the United States are being DENIED insurance coverage because they have pre-existing conditions and some people in the United States are being denied insurance reimbursements because their claims are being DENIED

    Just last May 2007, Blue Cross of California settled a class action law suit that accused them of ILLEGALLY DENYING CLAIM PAYMENTS to people who already had insurance!

    Plus the cost of healthcare in the United States is the number one cause of bankruptcy (even for those who have insurance).

    What good is paying for health insurance if the insurance companies have the power to decide who they will allow to be insured and who they will allow to have their claims paid??