‘Sicko’ needs a fact physical

In his new movie “Sicko,” Michael Moore uses a clip of my appearance earlier this year on “The O’Reilly Factor” to introduce a segment on the glories of Canadian health care. Moore adores the Canadian system. I do not.

I am a new American, but I grew up and worked for many years in Canada. And I know the health-care system of my native country much more intimately than Moore. There’s a good reason why my former countrymen with the money to do so either use the services of a booming industry of illegal private clinics, or come to America to take advantage of the health care that Moore denounces.

Government-run health care in Canada inevitably devolves into a dehumanizing system of triage, where the weak and the elderly are hastened to their fates by actuarial calculation. Having fought the Canadian health-care bureaucracy on behalf of my ailing mother just two years ago — she was too old, and too sick, to merit the highest-quality care in the government’s eyes — I can honestly say that Moore’s preferred health-care system is something I wouldn’t wish on him.

In 1999, my uncle was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. If he’d lived in America, the miracle drug Rituxan might have saved him. But Rituxan wasn’t approved for use in Canada, and he lost his battle with cancer.

But don’t take my word for it: Even the Toronto Star agrees that Moore’s endorsement of Canadian health care is overwrought and factually challenged. And the Star is considered a left-wing newspaper, even by Canadian standards.

Just last month, the Star’s Peter Howell reported from the Cannes Film Festival that Moore became irate when Canadian reporters challenged his portrayal of their national health-care system. “You Canadians! You used to be so funny!” exclaimed an exasperated Moore. “You gave us all our best comedians. When did you turn so dark?”

Moore further claimed that the infamously long waiting lists in Canada are merely a reflection of the fact that Canadians have a longer life expectancy than Americans, and that the sterling system is swamped by too many Canadians who live too long.

Canada’s media know better. In 2006, the average wait time from seeing a primary-care doctor to getting treatment by a specialist was over four months. Out of a population of 32 million, there are about 3.2 million Canadians trying to get a primary-care doctor. Today, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Canada ranks 24th out of 28 countries in doctors per thousand people.

Unfortunately, Moore is more concerned with promoting an anti-free-market agenda than getting his facts straight. “The problem,” said Moore recently, “isn’t just (the insurance companies), or the Hospital Corporation and the Frist family — it’s the system! They can’t make a profit unless they deny care! Unless they deny claims! Our laws state very clearly that they have a legal fiduciary responsibility to maximize profits for the shareholders … the only way they can turn the big profit is to not pay out the money, to not provide the care!”

Profit, according to Moore, has no place in health care — period.

Moore ignores the fact that 85 percent of hospital beds in the United States are in nonprofit hospitals, and almost half of us with private plans get our insurance from nonprofit providers. Moreover, Kaiser Permanente, which Moore demonizes, is also a nonprofit.

What’s really amazing is that even the intended beneficiaries of Moore’s propagandizing don’t support his claims. The Supreme Court of Canada declared in June 2005 that the government health-care monopoly in Quebec is a violation of basic human rights.

Moore put me, fleetingly, into “Sicko” as an example of an American who doesn’t understand the Canadian health-care system. He couldn’t be more wrong. I’ve personally endured the creeping disaster of Canadian health care. Unlike him, I’m willing to tell the truth about it.

(Sally C. Pipes is the president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute. She is the author of “Miracle Cure: How to Solve America’s Health Care Crisis and Why Canada Isn’t the Answer.”)


  1. CheckerboardStrangler

    I am married to a 100 per cent service connected disabled Navy veteran. I am married in the eyes of my own morality and in the eyes of my spiritual guide, but I am only legally married as “commonlaw” according to the eyes of the law.

    The reason for this was simple. Back when we first fell in love we were poor as church mice however we realized in short order that getting married with a state approved marriage license would set off a series of events that would result in her son losing his state health benefits. He was born with FIVE MAJOR HEART DEFECTS and he would have been denied the two open heart surgeries that saved his life, all because my seven dollar an hour factory job put us in a bracket where we “made too much money”.

    Now, nine years later I am back doing the job I did for eighteen years in Hollywood and making decent money, my wife has received her service connected disability rating as an MS patient
    who uses a wheelchair and her and the children receive medical benefits from the VA Health Care System, which is run in somewhat similar fashion to Canada’s health care system.

    We’re working to make our union legal now because her and the kids are covered, and our combined income no longer threatens the children’s health coverage. I am now showing signs of adult onset diabetes and I’m losing both my eyesight and the complete use of one of my legs.
    Since we’re not legally married I am not covered by the VA System.

    As a camera operator I find it somewhat important to retain my eyesight and the use of my legs. As a self employed business owner I find it difficult to get any decent health care coverage other than a few HMO’s which have flatly stated that my condition would have to worsen significantly before their benefits, which do not activate for at least a year, kick in.

    It’s nice to know that under America’s “Christian Family Values” my son would have died and that our current “free market system” would ask me to give up my career of over twenty years before I can take steps to maintain my health.

    Of course it might be difficult for me to pay for the health care premiums if I can no longer do my job but hey, that’s America!

    I guess Pipes doesn’t understand the concept of preventive health care and could care less about the ever widening chasm that contains a few million people who have “fallen through the cracks”.

    Here’s my crack:
    Stick your critique of Canada’s health care system up yours, Sally.

  2. shonen

    I am fifty nine and to date have had one abdominal aneurysm bypass, then a hernia repair on the original incision, all in less than two years. I had to wait exactly one week for the original surgery after the aneurysm was diagnosed because it took that long for the surgeon to find time on his schedule to fit me in. I was not in crisis or he would have done the job then and there. As for the hernia repair, it was done a month after it was diagnosed, again, because it was not an emergency. Total cost of all this? Let’s see, three days in ICU, a week in a semi-private room for the aneurysm, then five days in a public ward for the hernia….hmmm….I do not know what the cost is, because my shoddy and miserly universal health care coverage paid for the whole thing, both times. All I had to do was go home and get better.
    Do I like my Canadian coverage? You bet I do.

  3. pondering_it_all

    I bet that the PRI gives it’s CEO a terrific health plan, paying for all her expenses instantly at any medical facility she chooses. So her experience of “The American Healthcare System” has absolutely nothing to do with what the rest of us experience! Every complaint I have read from the rightwing press about Canadian patients having to wait or being denied certain treatments IS an everyday occurance for any American who depends on a normal health insurance policy.

    Another interesting point to ponder: If the author really believed her mother would have received better care in the US, then why on earth did she not get her here for treatment? The PRI bio on Sally Pipes says she has been the CEO since 1991, so she must have had all the financial and political resources necessary. Did she just need her mother to die under the (inferior?) Canadian health care system so she could make some propaganda for her clients?

  4. bduffy

    Sure, Mr. “Pacific Research Institute”; don’t mention the fact that the Canadian health service has been steadily attacked and (drastically) cut by business-friendly governments over the last 30 years. There would be much better wait times if it was funded as it used to be! This is a fundamental lie that critics of the Canadian system use, that it was always like this; but the truth is that the system has been weakened so we will think that privitization is the only answer.

    Nice try, shill.

  5. Jellicoe

    I am so heartened (and yes, proud) of the penetrating reader comments on this article. Let’s keep it up! They can’t pull the wool over our eyes if we refuse to be sheep!

  6. Ardie

    The simplest system in the world is to have accident insurance and catastrophic insurance. Doctors are good at emergency–and with a catastrophic illness, it can be a home wrecker. So people need help. The rest should be out-of-pocket. Checkups are a joke–they don’t prevent illness. Doctors kill more people with their bungling than almost any disease.

    People should be a lot more active, eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains–and lay off the meat and the other crap, like junk food and soft drinks which are nothing more than sweetened carbonic acid. Meat causes many diseases. Humans are not designed to process meat efficiently–they are not cats. Eating meat everyday destroys both bones and the linings of the veins. Doctors know this, btw. But they make more money off of you being stupid and unhealthy. Illness–not health–makes the bucks in the medical racket.

  7. SEAL

    Whenever this subject comes up, I feel guilty. I am one of the elite recipients of medical care under the American system. While in active service I was given the absolute best of care at no expense to me. Since my retirement I have never had to pay one cent for any type of medical care or prescribed medication. I have never had to deal with the VA since retiring and been able to choose my own doctors. A little over a year and one-half ago I was diagnosed with a form of cancer [multilpe myeloma] that can be treated and controlled for years but not cured. All of my treatment is provided by the third best rated cancer center in the world – Moffitt, Tampa, Florida.

    Occasionally, I overhear conversations of other patients at Moffitt concerned with how they are going to pay for that which their insurance does not cover. Many cancer medications and the unique pain killers associated with cancer are quite expensive. For example, my prescriptions run almost $12,000 a month. Very few insurance programs will cover all those costs as mine does. I witness some of them paying large amounts for prescriptions at the hospital pharmacy. I have to wonder how they manage it. But I also notice the patients there all seem to drive very nice automobiles. There is no one being treated there that does not have insurance except for the few Arabs that fly in on their private jets.

    Of course, a large number of cancer patients are over 65 years of age and covered by Medicare. I have often wondered what would happen to them without this coverage and what about all those under 65 with no insurance? What happens to them? I never see them nor have I bothered to find out. But I do have the question: why should it be any different? The illness is the same. Why should the treatment and care be any different? Why does our government draw the line according to a person’s financial ability to pay for insurance or their age? But there is another determinant.

    Every person responsible for determining our health care system has affordable access to the finest medical coverage available. Everyone employed by the government has excellent health insurance. Most of those employed by the major corporations have good to excellent health insurance. It is those outside this loop, the independent americans, that face the high cost of providing themselves with health insurance. Higher individual costs than those inside the loop. Costs that, in many cases, make it impossible to afford, leaving them uninsured. Obviously, the line is drawn by what you support as well as your financial ability. This is a very distinct discrimination.

    I, with a lifetime of service to my country receive the very best in medical care and those who function independently, raise their families as best they can, work for a living and pay taxes, are not entitled to equal health care. Frankly, I do not see that I, or anyone else, contributed more to this nation than those independent others. This nation was built by those independent people and it is they who paid my wages and now pay for my medical care. There is something very wrong with this system and the distorted reasoning that created it.

  8. bryan mcclellan

    Out of all the argument the reality remains that it’s not the Human condition that rules insurance and big pharmas policy, but the bottom line. Anyone seeking to bring this to the fore has to tell both sides of the story,and I don’t see that happening in this world of spin.Morality and honesty were taken off life support long ago.

  9. JoyfulC

    I guess I come at this from the other side of the situation — I’m an American, married to a Canadian and living in Canada for 25 years. I hear much about how flawed our universal health care system is here and how much better the “free market” system is south of the border, but that hasn’t been my experience.

    We’ve had relatively few serious health problems over the past 25 years. Between us, I think we’ve had several broken bones requiring emergency orthopedic surgery, a gall bladder removal, a kidney stone, an inguinal hernia, a vitreous detachment, and a couple cases of strep throat. And yet, we never once had to wait more than half an hour to see a doctor (even though we seek health care so irregularly that, until recently, we didn’t even have a regular family doctor), we never had to wait more than a week or so to see a surgeon or a specialist, or more than a month to get non-life-saving surgery scheduled.

    More importantly, we suffered no financial stress beyond loss of income. We are not affluent (by any means!) and yet we never felt overwhelmed by those health care expenses we were expected to pay (prescriptions, crutches, orthopedic devices, etc.). Unlike some of my more affluent American family members who have supposedly excellent insurance through corporate plans, we’ve never had a collection agency phone us regarding any bills that were supposed to be covered by our insurer and weren’t.

    I think a lot of the fuss in Canada is manufactured by insurance companies who’d love to open Canada up for profiteering the way that the US is. AND they don’t find it convenient to have comparisons being made between the system there and the system here. They know people are gullible, and if you repeatedly hammer home the notion that they are being screwed over, eventually some will start to see it that way.

    Many Americans have died or suffered horribly, in spite of available medical care or pharmaceuticals, simply because they didn’t have health insurance or their health insurance refused to cover them. My daughter tells me that a friend of hers recently started a new job and also recently found out that she is pregnant — but because she became pregnant before her health coverage through her new employer kicks in, her pregnancy probably won’t be covered. !!!! Some squint in some actuarial office somewhere might see how this makes sense from a profit standpoint, but frankly, from a social standpoint, I don’t see any advantage whatsoever to denying a pregnant woman health insurance.

    I’ve seen both systems, and I think Canada’s — while certainly not perfect — is much more socially responsible and more economically responsible to society as a whole.


  10. rickh1954

    Why does the debate always devolve into a winner take all contest? I am Canadian and have seen our healthcare system at it’s finest. I have also seen things I would change. When our approach becomes dogmatic, in that things must be done in a way that suits our philosophy, we are unable to correct flaws in any system.

    I favour a more pragmatic approach; a combination of user pay, to speed elective procedures such as hip replacement, and universal coverage for all life threatening conditions. Our current triage system tends to make patients wait far too long for elective procedures. Those who can afford it often go to the US to have them performed more quickly. This money could all stay in Canada if a combination of government and user pay systems were allowed. A portion of this private care money could even be funneled back into the public system to help support universal care.

    I do not believe in the American system of user pay or user die. To me, it is unconscionable that a wealthy society would stand by and let its citizens suffer and die at the whim of for profit medicine.

    Surely we could look for the best of both, or for that matter all, healthcare systems and create something better for both countries.

  11. JoyfulC

    You know, I’ve heard that argument many times, and it’s quite tempting to think it could work.

    But doesn’t it always seem like once greed enters into the picture, things start getting a little inhumane? Take President Bush’s intent to veto the plan to expand SCHIPS because it might interfere with the “free market” — in other words, it might interfere with the insurance companies’ prospects.

    Any user-pay system in Canada would have to be strictly regulated …. by incorruptible politicians. Do we have any?? 😉


  12. Jellicoe

    As noted at the bottom of the piece, Sally Pipes is president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute. As noted by Sourcewatch.org:

    “The Pacific Research Institute (PRI) or officially the ‘Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy’, is a think tank founded in 1979 whose stated vision is the promotion of “the principles of individual freedom and personal responsibility. The Institute believes these principles are best encouraged through policies that emphasize a free economy, private initiative, and limited government.” The Pacific Research Institute has associated with other think-tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute.”

    Evidently, her steady (and no doubt well-paid) job is to drum into the heads of Americans that government solutions are bad solutions. This alone should be enough to put the reader on high alert when assessing a piece by Ms. Piper on universal government-funded healthcare.

    Ms. Piper asserts, without any explanation, argument or proof (other than a story about her own mother), that the Canadian system is “dehumanizing” and practices “triage”. If her mother were an American without health insurance, would she get “the highest-quality care” no matter in whose eyes, unless she had the cash to pay for it? And why do almost all other first world countries, all of whom (and not just Canada) have universal health care, invariably have significantly better overall health outcomes than the US. How does this speak to the quality of care actually delivered by the US health care industry?

    What does the apparent fact that a particular drug (Rituxan) was not approved for use in Canada have to do with the quality of universal Government-funded healthcare? We certainly don’t have it in the US, yet the FDA also routinely doesn’t approve many drugs, or takes more time than one might wish to approve them. (One might also wonder what the basis is for her bald claim that Rituxan is a “miracle drug”, and that its use might have saved her father).

    One wonders whether the Toronto Star, in fact, said that Moore’s endorsement of Canadian health care is “overwrought” and “factually challenged”. If so, one would have thought that the words, which have such a zing to them, would be in quotes. These are emotionally charged words that, without contextual support, lack any meaningful content but can sure rile up the reader. A cheap trick often used by right-wing propagandists.

    So Moore makes a crack about the Canadians losing their sense of humor. Why devote a paragraph to this extraneous event, except to run down Moore personally? This is another cheap trick that is absolutely de rigour when countering anything said by anyone who is to the left of Atilla the Hun — as opposed to arguing against the substance of the target’s statements.

    As to long lines, is Ms. Piper aware that the US is second-to-last among first world countries in waiting times for care — just ahead of Canada?

    As to the number of Canadians waiting for a primary care physician, compare the number to the vastly greater number of Americans who not only don’t have a primary care physician (only the rich and the insured can afford one), but have no reasonable prospect of EVER having a primary care physician unless the government steps in.

    Next, Piper reveals her true problem with Moore — he’s “promoting an anti-free-market agenda”. Can Ms. Piper deny that private health insurers typically syphon off c. 25% of premiums to run their health insurance programs while Medicare takes only c. 3% to do the same thing? Where does she suppose those dollars, paid for health care, but not spent on it, go? Presumably, its not wasted in “inefficiency” by our terribly efficient free enterprises. I don’t suppose any of it goes to increase profits which, just so ever coincidently, increases the value of the publicly-traded stock that these companies’ senior executives can then sell into the market for tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. And, of course, one shouldn’t suspect that the insurance executives would then be, in even a small way, motivated to instruct the troops to turn down valid claims (or outsource jobs, or whatever) to make sure that those stock-inflating profits continue to roll in. Ms. Piper acts as if she is not aware of the great number of perfectly valid claims (often pre-approved) that are routinely turned down, only to be paid when the customer has the time, education, acumen, tenacity and gumption to successfully fight the system. And the premium payers get to pay for all this bureacratic obstructionism! What a deal!

    By the way, Ms. Piper also states that, according to Moore, profit “has no place in health care — period”. If he said so, why doesn’t she produce a quote, or at least a source for the statement? Another cheap trick of the right wingers — “they’re going to throw the baby out with the bath water!” Has Moore said that he is in favor of outlawing private health care? Does this necessarily follow from being in favor of government-funded health care for those who cannot afford good for-profit health care?

    Next, Ms. Piper characterizes the Canadian Supreme Court ruling that apparently invalidated a particular form of healthcare that had been instituted in the past in Quebec (but NOT all of Canada — otherwise it would have been terminated) somehow means that the “intended beneficiaries of Moore’s propagandizing don’t support his claims”. Now, let’s get this right — the Canadian Supreme Court is the “intended beneficiary” of Moore’s “propagandizing”???

    A fitting end for an article that should bear a suitable consumer protection label, like — WARNING! TAKING THIS PROPAGANDA AT FACE VALUE CAN BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH!

  13. Rich Farris

    The Pacific Research Institute is a conservative thinktank not unlike Cato. I find their positions highly suspect because by their very premise, they would never hire any “thinkers” in their ‘tank’ who could consider opposing views to their own stated bootstrap goals – goals which ironically always protect entrenched wealthy power.

    Think tanks are not places for real thinking. And the people who have responded to this article are clearly far better thinkers.

  14. JudyB

    Nothing that Moore has ever produced even comes close to being as dishonest and dangerous as what this Bush administration has managed to actually pull off..absolutely Nothing!!

  15. ti-rouge

    I have tried in vain to find any articles about Michael Moore on the Toronto Star’s website containing the word “overwrought.” Well what can you expect from an article that the Providence Journal and the New York Daily News would publish.

    Thank you Jellicoe for an extremely well done response — now if it could only be shown inter-linearly or at least in parallel columns so that the non-facts can be rebutted before they sink into the non-critical reader’s consciousness.

  16. SEAL

    Free Health care should be a right for everyone in the world. There is no legitimate reason why congress could not design a system that would provide free health care for all.

  17. neondog

    As CHB states: Their intend is to bring both sides of the argument in order to stimulate discussion.

    I have seen at least three articles that attacked/disagree with the SICKO premise. I guess I missed all those articles with thought provoking opinions that agree with Mr. Moore.

    I am curious if CHB has it’s own anti-Moore agenda.