The first shot in the war for health care

Pollsters with their questionnaires were all over the moviegoers waiting in line for the sneak preview of “Sicko” on June 23 in Dallas. They seemed particularly interested in finding out why people were motivated to turn out.

Certainly, the moviegoers were motivated. Tickets sold out long before the scheduled opening, and later, in the theater, part of the audience was standing through the entire movie.

“Was it the newspaper ad?” they asked. “Was it the TV or radio announcements? Was it the publicity over government threats against Moore for having gone to Cuba?”

None of the suggested reasons was right for me. I wrote in mine: “News.”

Every news report is full of health care heartbreak. The same newspaper that announced the sneak preview carried this headline, “Two Fort Worth hospitals on list for heart patient deaths.” Fort Worth had made the “Top 5” hospitals nationwide for number of questionable deaths under medical supervision.

The paper also had a cartoon lamenting the fact that Texas is 49th in health care among the 50 states.

I didn’t know beforehand that the movie would talk about health problems associated with childbearing and early child rearing, but the headline the day after the movie was, “Foster children’s injuries investigated.”

There are long and completely disgusting statewide scandals behind each of those headlines.

The most telling headline had appeared a week earlier. It was about the only people in Texas who are actually trying to do something about the health care crisis, the National Nurses Organizing Committee. The headline read, “Fired nurses protest at Mesquite Hospital.”

The recent session of the Texas Legislature had coldly ignored the nurses’ attempt to pass a bill limiting patient/nurse ratios and providing protection for whistleblowers. As soon as the session closed, one of the hospitals right outside Dallas insisted that nurses take unreasonable and unsafe patient loads. When one of them refused, they fired her; then another; then another. The three fired nurses and their supporters have redoubled their efforts for patient protection since then.

Health care activists are leafleting and circulating petitions outside the theaters where “Sicko” is showing. One of the three martyred nurses was waiting for the crowd as we left. She told me that every detail of Michael Moore’s condemnation of America’s for-profit health care system was true and accurate. “Our system isn’t even a health care system,” she told us, “It’s sickness care.”

Part of the motivation question was answered just by looking at the theater audience. Although it was an evening showing, gray and silver were the dominant hair colors. Wheelchairs and crutches were prominent. Americans, especially disabled and older Americans, are worried to distraction about for-profit medical corporations.

None of us was disappointed in the film. One of my friends cried through most of it, and other viewers could be heard gasping for breath. We all broke out in cheers and applause twice, and there was a standing ovation at the end. With enviable filmmaking dexterity, Moore covers almost every aspect of the dirty national scandal, except for the notorious failure of veterans’ care, which would require a full movie by itself.

Although Moore fans seeking his usual humorous approach were not disappointed, they were also impressed with this greatly increased emphasis on compassion for the victims. This film does more than expose atrocities. Much more than in Moore’s other films, “Sicko” reveals real solutions that are actually working in other capitalist countries and, even more so, in revolutionary Cuba.

“Sicko” will be remembered as the first shot in an American war over patient treatment that will last at least into November 2008. Go see the movie and join the war.

Jim Lane (flittle7 @yahoo.com) is a labor activist in North Texas.