‘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.)