Sicko energizes health care debate

Even before it officially opens in thousands of theaters across the country on June 29, Michael Moore’s latest documentary “Sicko” is already impacting the national health care debate.

Over 1,000 nurses and supporters braved sweltering heat to join Moore at a June 12 rally in Sacramento, Calif., sponsored by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee. The rally was preceded by a news conference and an informal briefing for legislators, and followed by a screening of “Sicko” for the nurses and an official evening premiere.

Wearing bright red “Sicko” T-shirts, the rallying nurses chorused, “Hey ho, hey ho, private health care is sick-o,” and “What do we want? Single payer! When do we want it? Now!”

Rally participants urged adoption of the single-payer bill now before the state Legislature, SB 840, the California Universal Healthcare Act, sponsored by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, and HR 676, the U.S. National Health Insurance Act, introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich).

“There is no room for the concept of profit when it comes to taking care of people who are sick,” Moore told the crowd.

Also addressing the rally were Drs. David Himmelstein and Quentin Young, leaders of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Other previews were slated for this week in Chicago, New York, Washington and Manchester, N.H.

Noting that California “has in the past been at the forefront of raising the minimum wage, of demanding pollution controls, so many things,” Moore told a morning press conference, “It is my sincere hope that California will once again lead the way in taking on the private profit-making companies that are gouging the citizens of this state and this country, to line their pockets at the expense of those who are sick and need help.”

With every other western industrialized country making it a human right to see a doctor, Moore said, “We’re the wealthiest country on earth, and I do not understand why we allow this problem to continue.”

At a briefing for legislators, Kuehl told Moore, “I’m personally very grateful you made this film. It’s telling, finally, the American people that their health care system is very sick.”

Single-payer bills before other state legislatures include SB 755 in Massachusetts and HB 311 in Illinois.

Moore’s film depicts the horror stories experienced by Americans who are denied health care by private insurance companies, and shows how the insurance-based health care system is set up to keep things that way. It also shows examples of other nations’ health systems where insurance companies don’t rule the roost.

Among the film’s protagonists: Dawnelle Keys of Los Angeles, whose toddler daughter, Mychelle, died after she was denied emergency care at an “out of network” hospital.

Perhaps the most spectacular episode is the one in which Moore takes New York City rescue workers denied care for Sept. 11-related illnesses first to Guantanamo, where he asks unsuccessfully for the same care accorded prisoners the U.S. has incarcerated there, and then to Havana, where the workers are welcomed and treated.

For the June 29 official openings, the CNA/NNOC and Physicians for a National Health Program, together with other health care workers’ unions, are planning a “Scrubs for Sicko” campaign with caregivers in “Sicko scrubs” at every theater where the film is shown.

Though at the start of this week the campaign had just begun to mobilize for these actions, involving some 3,000 showings, “we’ve already signed up over 500 nurses,” CNA/NNOC spokesman Shum Preston said in a telephone interview.

Preston said caregivers at the openings will ask people to urge their elected officials to support Conyers’ HR 676. “We’re also starting a nurses’ pledge movement to withdraw all investments from for-profit insurance companies, and calling on politicians to stop accepting donations from insurance companies,” he added.

“‘Sicko’ is the right movie at the right time,” Preston said, “because it crystallizes a lot of feelings people have about health care, and points to the basic problem being the insurance companies’ profits.”

One effect of the mobilizations around the film is that nurses’ organizations from all over the country are coming together to work on national policy, Preston said. “It’s already changing the health care debate from ‘what about the health care crisis?’ to ‘what about the insurance companies and their profits?’”

mbechtel @pww.org