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Michael Moore is a hated man by many due to his politics. However, even if you can't stand Michael Moore, this time you may want to give him a listen. "Sicko" is Moore's latest picture, and it takes on America's health care system. In 2006, Moore asked readers on the web to send in some of their health care horror stories. By the end of the week, Moore had over 25,000 emails, including hundreds of letters from people who worked in the health care industry and were tired of what they'd seen. One woman who works on the phone for an insurance company tells Moore that she is irritable on the phone because she doesn't want to get to know people who she's heartbroken will be likely denied. Another tells Moore that the reviewer who denied the most claims got a bonus and reviewers were told to keep to a certain percentage of denials.

Without insurance, it's very difficult to get treatment these days, and when you call into hospitals and doctors to get an appointment, they want to know what kind of insurance you have. However, despite the fact that many people do have insurance, that doesn't mean that things are always taken care of. Moore meets with a woman who is insured, but the company will not treat her brain tumor. We are told she passed away not long after the interview. Another woman who was in a car accident where she was knocked out in the accident is told her ambulance ride was not covered because it was not pre-approved (when was she supposed to get it approved?) Another was denied treatment for cervical cancer because she was told that, at 22, she was too young and shouldn't be having it at that age.

Another woman had surgery that was approved, but when the insurance company actually had to pay, they dug up the fact that the woman had a minor yeast infection a long time prior, then cancelled her policy and took back the payments for the surgery, then told those people to go to the young woman to get their money. "Experimental" is the excuse used to deny many different - and often commonly used - treatments that could help/could have helped save lives. These people had insurance, but the insurance they paid for wasn't there when they needed it.

So, what is the US government doing about this? Well, in many instances, getting paid by lobbyists. Hillary Clinton proposed a universal health care plan while husband Bill was in office, only to go silent on it long afterwards after the industry spent $100m to stop the plan from being approved. However, Hillary recently turned up on the list of those who accepted contributions from the health care lobby. She was second on the list (first is Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania) of those getting contributions, with a bit over $850,000.

For someone who was on the side of the people for health care, she now seems to have sided with the industry, although it's certainly not only her. If the second person on the list is getting $850K, you can only imagine how much money and how much influence is present when the numbers are added up. Another scene shows Senators gathering and Moore includes a little "pop-up" above each to note how much they were paid by the drug industry lobby. Obviously, the ability to be "bought" by lobbyists of various industries is not a just a "Republican" or "Democratic" thing; it's an "across-the-board" thing and Moore's film shows how much it took for the health care and drug lobbyists to protect their continued profits.

As for the drug industry lobby, we're told that a "historic" bill to help seniors with perscriptions actually allowed the drug companies to charge what they want. One particular senator lead the charge for this bill, which would actually mean seniors would be paying more for their medicine, despite his ranting and raving about how much he "cares" for the elderly. He, not surprisingly, left Congress shortly after the bill was signed, jumping ship to become the CEO of Pharma, the drug industry lobby company, for $2M a year. 14 Congressional aides who worked on the bill left after the bill was signed. Where'd they go? The health care industry. Who's looking out for us?

But wait, aren't Canadians getting free treatment? We are told horror stories about how their system doesn't work. However, when Moore visits Canada, everyone seems pleased. A golfer from Canada sustains an injury in Florida and was told, despite insurance, that it would cost $24,000. He instead decided to return to his home country, where things were taken care of and the bill is...well, zip. Canadians live - on average - three years longer than those in the US do. Moore heads to France, where he is told by a group of Americans living in France that doctors make house calls that are free, and he even rides along on some calls.

Moore heads to a British hospital where you are given money for transit expenses from the hospital (they want to make sure you get home okay) from a nice cashier behind a window. A British doctor tells Moore that they get bonuses for helping patients (What a concept!) Drugs are an inexpensive, standard charge. (Later in the film, a woman's inhaler - the exact same inhaler that costs $120 in the US - costs her 5 cents in Cuba.)

In the second half of the film, we're introduced to a group of 9/11 volunteer rescue workers who are now suffering from debilitating respiratory illnesses, yet they are denied any sort of assistance - one even notes that he's been denied a few times by a fund specifically set-up to assist 9/11 rescue workers. Moore finds out that the Guantanamo Bay military base in Cuba offers top-notch, free 24-hour health care to captured terrorists, so he decides to try and take the 9/11 rescue workers down to the base to see if he could get them some free health care.

While he's denied entry to the base (when a siren goes off, he figures it's time to get out of there), all the people he brought to get some needed health care are treated in Cuba for free. They are not asked for an insurance card, just their name and date of birth. When the people Moore has brought actually get the healthcare they so desperately need, it's heartbreaking to see how grateful they are and the relief that, for once, their situations actually improved and they have some new hope. The local firefighters in Cuba hear that the 9/11 rescue workers are nearby, and invite them to the firehouse because they wanted to honor the heroes of 9/11. One of the Cuban firefighters states, "Firefighters around the world are family."

I just paid $78 for a tiny bottle of Nasonex for my recent sinus problems, and that's for one month's worth. I guess it costs so much because the company has to pay spokesperson Antonio Banderas to appear in their ads (he's the voice of the bizarre little bee.) Watching Moore's movie, I could only wonder how much something simple like Nasonex (which is actually seen very briefly in the movie) would run me elsewhere. Millions of people in the US take something for something - whether Nasonex or something much more serious - and to know that the same thing costs vastly less in another country is painful - financially and otherwise.

The question presented by "Sicko" is really why people in other countries do not have to fear walking into the hospital to get the treatment they need, while many common Americans fear the cost and even have to skip treatment of minor things (that could very well turn major, and by that time, not only is treatment much more expensive, but may also not be as effective as catching the issue earlier) because they (rightly, cause 'damn it's expensive) fear the cost? Why is health care a basic right in many countries and not the US?

Some of those interviewed in other countries look at Moore like he's from another planet when he asks them what they paid for the major proceedure they just had. There are nearly 50 million uninsured Americans. There are also a lot of insured Americans, whose insurance companies continually think up new ways to deny coverage. Despite the fact that the health system of the US is ranked 37th in the world, the citizens of the US pay more for health care than any other country.

We know there's so much wrong with the US health care system, but really, Moore's picture shows just how unbelievably bad and ridiculous it is. It's just outrageous and sad, and again - no matter what you think of Moore (who isn't seen on-screen as often here as in previous films), just watch the movie. If you think it's obvious that the US health care system is undeniably broken, "Sicko" shows just how broken it is - and it's Moore's best work.

Moore does respond to argumments against the facts presented in the film on his website here: http://www.michaelmoore.com/sicko/news/article_10017.php and again here: http://www.michaelmoore.com/sicko/checkup/.


VIDEO: "Sicko" is presented by Genius Products/Weinstein Home Entertainment in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation quality is quite good. While it's understandable that some of the archive footage looks a tad soft and smeary, the new interviews looked crisp and clean. No edge enhancement is seen, but some minor artifacting is spotted. Colors mostly looked natural and clean.

SOUND: "Sicko" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is a documentary-style soundtrack, with minimal surround use. Dialogue-driven, interviews remained crisp and clear.

EXTRAS: "This Country Beats France" is a short featurette that starts off with the political talk shows bashing Moore for praising universal health care in other countries. Moore then goes on to show Norway, which offers universal health care and offers one of the highest standards of living. The country pays for a 2 week tropical vacation to help with ailments during the Winter. "What If You Worked For GE in France?" shows how French workers for GE get better benefits than GE workers in America. "Uniquely American" talks about how an uninsured woman diagnosed with cancer found herself assisted by a wonderful community who came to a fundraiser. When she had people raise money for her, she was no longer entitled to a discount, because the funds raised counted as income.

"Sister Mary Fidel" sees an amusing little interview in Cuba. "Who Would Jesus Deny?" sees Moore visiting a Reverend in a small, poor Texas town where no one has insurance. While one man with cancer was able to get into the first stage of treatment, treatment was suddenly stopped when he couldn't come up with money and he died soon after. "Sicko Goes to Washington" sees Moore headed to Washington to discuss HR 676, a health care reform bill. We also get more interviews, a featurette on the premiere in Skid Row, a music video and trailer.

Final Thoughts: "Sicko" is intended to provoke discussion and be a serious wake-up call on a terrible problem in the US that is not getting any better. This is Moore's best film, and it makes for saddening, deeply troubling and occasionally very powerful viewing. The DVD offers solid audio/video quality, as well as a set of fairly brief (but enjoyable) extras. This is a film that every single American young and old needs to see and discuss.

Film Grade
The Film A
DVD Grades
Video 89/B+
Audio: 86/B
Extras: 75/C

DVD Information

Genius/Weinstein Home Entertainment
Dolby Digital 5.1
123 minutes
Subtitles: English
Rated PG
Dual Layer:Yes
Available At Amazon.com: Sicko DVD