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Talking Points: “SiCKO” and Getting Worse

Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore highlights the deficiencies in the U.S. health care system in his new movie, "SiCKO," which opens nationwide on June 29.

Approximately 45 million Americans lack health insurance. Health care costs are increasing faster than wages, and six in 10 insured Americans are “worried about being able to afford the cost of their health insurance over the next few years.” But these high prices aren’t buying the world’s top care. Even while U.S. health spending per capita is higher than that of any other country, America is not necessarily the best country in which to get sick. Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore highlights the deficiencies in the U.S. system in his new movie, “SiCKO,” which opens nationwide on June 29. Moore travels to Great Britain, France, Canada, and Cuba, comparing the accessibility and costs of those systems with health care in the United States. He finds that his own country often comes up short for Americans who can’t always afford high premiums. “Every American has a human right to know that when he gets sick, he can go to the doctor without worrying if he can afford it,” Moore said. Moore recently spoke with Oprah about America’s broken health care system. You can view that conversation here, along with clips from the film.

  • Americans are paying too much for too little when it comes to health care. Health care costs skyrocketed 87 percent over the last five years, despite wages increasing just 20 percent. As Moore highlights in “SiCKO,” these costs are significantly higher than what people in other nations pay for care. According to a 2004 study published in Health Affairs, more than “one-quarter of U.S. adults (both insured and uninsured) spent more than $1,000 out of pocket on health care in the past year, far exceeding expense burdens in the other countries.” As a result, nearly half of sick adults in the United States “said that they did not see a doctor when sick, did not get recommended treatment, or did not fill a prescription because of cost.” Perhaps not surprisingly, U.S. health care spending also significantly outpaces the spending of other countries. “Health spending per capita in the United States is much higher than in other countries — at least 24 percent higher than in the next highest spending countries, and over 90 percent higher than in many other countries that we would consider global competitors.” According to a CNN poll from May, 64 percent of the public believes the “government should provide a national health insurance program for all Americans, even if this would require higher taxes.” Compared to people in other developed countries, Americans are the most likely to say that their health care system needs to be completely rebuilt.
  • America can have better health care and healthier citizens. One of the myths that Moore tackles in “SiCKO” is that the United States has the world’s best health care. The right wing continues to perpetuate this myth, arguing that it is dishonest to highlight the deficiencies in the U.S. health care system. “The fact is, the United States provides the best health care quality in the world,” said Sean Hannity on Sunday on his show “Hannity’s America.” Earlier this month, Fox News’s John Gibson argued, “In the film, Moore says that our health care system is inferior to dozens of other countries. So why are so many people from other countries coming to America for medical attention?” But unfortunately, what often distinguishes the United States is “its relatively poor performance.” The United States is behind in preventing asthma-related deaths, vaccinating children against polio, and providing flu shots to seniors. The “likelihood of surviving a kidney transplant is 6 percent higher in Australia, 13 percent higher in Canada, and 4 percent higher in the United Kingdom and New Zealand than in the U.S.” Additionally, one in three sicker Americans “who seek care suffers some type of error,” and U.S. patients experience approximately 98,000 deaths from medical errors per year. A 2006 poll found that 96 percent of Americans believe that there are problems with the health care system in the United States. Health care reform is an urgent priority, as Americans on average die at a younger age compared to the average age of death of comparable nations. The U.S. infant mortality rate is 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births, while Japan and Sweden have rates below 3.5 deaths per 1,000 live births. And the obesity rate among adults in the United States is 30.6 percent, the highest rate of developed countries; this rate is nearly 21 percent higher than the rate of the second-highest country, Mexico.
  • Fixing the health care system can be done, and it must include a new focus on prevention and wellness. A “hallmark of high-quality primary care is an emphasis on preventive care, counseling, and awareness of patients’ health concerns.” The United States continues to be plagued by preventable diseases — such as asthma and Hepatitis B — with proven preventive services remaining largely unused. “About 70 percent of deaths and costs in the U.S. are attributable to chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer — diseases that can be prevented or controlled.” A new approach is needed. The Center for American Progress has proposed a progressive prescription for a health America, a “practical approach to guaranteeing an American right to affordable, quality health coverage” and improve the health of Americans. A key component of this plan is the Wellness Trust, a groundbreaking proposal that would ensure that all Americans receive preventive care through an expanded delivery system. This system would include doctors, schools, workplaces, and communities.