Michael Moore on Sicko and the US health care industry

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Moore is on the move. On Wednesday, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker will testify on Capitol Hill. He then heads to New Hampshire to challenge presidential candidates -- Democrat and Republican -- over the nation’s healthcare system.

Oh, and his latest documentary, Sicko, is being released in thousands of theaters next week. The film is a seething indictment of the US healthcare system. It focuses not on the more than 40 million people who don’t have health insurance, but on the more than 250 million who do, many of whom are abandoned by the very health insurance industry they’ve paid into for decades.

Yesterday I sat down with Michael Moore at the Tribeca Cinema here in New York, just after he’d done a sneak preview for 9/11 workers who fell ill after working in the toxic environment at Ground Zero. He was then doing a fundraiser for the Center for Justice and Democracy, a tort reform group. I began by asking Michael Moore what inspired him to make the film.

MICHAEL MOORE: Well, I actually -- I had a TV show on back in the ’90s called TV Nation, and one day I just -- I thought it would be interesting to have like a race. So we sent a camera crew to an emergency room in Fort Lauderdale, a camera crew to an emergency room in Toronto, and then one to Havana. And they would each wait until someone came in with a broken arm or a broken leg. And then they were going to follow that person through and see how good the quality of the care was, how fast it was and how cheap it was. And I convinced Bob Costas and Ahmad Rashad, sportscasters, to do the play-by-play of what we called the Healthcare Olympics. And so, it was a race between the US, Canada and Cuba. And to make a long story short, Cuba won. They had the fastest care, the best care, and it cost nothing.

We turn the show in to NBC that week, and we get a call from the censor. They’re not called “the censor,” they’re called Standards & Practices. And so, this woman calls. She’s the head of Standards & Practices -- Dr. Somebody. I don’t know they -- she actually had a “Dr.” before her name, but I forget her last name now. But she calls, and she says, “Mike, Cuba can’t win.” I said, “What?” “Cuba can’t win.” “Well, they won. What do you mean they can’t win? They won.” “No, we can’t say that on NBC. We can’t say that Cuba won.” “Well, yeah, but they won! They provided the fastest care. They were the cheapest. And the patient was happy, and the bone got fixed.” “No, it’s against regulations here.” I said, “Oh, well, I’m not changing it.”

Well, they changed it. They changed it. Two days later, when it aired, they changed it so that Canada won. And Canada didn’t win. Canada almost won, but they charged the guy $15 for some crutches on the way out. So it’s bugged me to this day that anybody who saw that episode, you know, where it said, you know, “and Canada won the Healthcare Olympics,” and in fact it was Cuba, but that couldn’t be said on NBC, because God knows what would happen.

So, anyways, I first started thinking about this issue then, and then when I had my next show, The Awful Truth, we followed a guy who had health insurance, but his health insurance company would not approve this operation he needed, which would save his life. So we took the guy to the headquarters of Humana, the HMO down in Louisville, Kentucky, took him in to see the executives there. They gave us the boot. So we went out on the lawn and conducted the man's funeral, with him present. So we had a priest and a casket and pallbearers, bagpipes and, you know, “Amazing Grace” and the whole deal. And the executives are looking down from the top floor at this and horrified this is going to air on national television. Three days later, they call and tell the guy, “We’ll approve the operation.” And the man is alive today.

And I thought at the time, geez, you know, a ten-minute piece, we saved a guy's life; what could we do if we did a two-hour movie? And so, that was the sort of the genesis of this, though the movie didn’t end up being a bunch of stories about, you know, saving individual people’s lives, because as I got into this, I figured there’s a much, you know, sort of bigger story to tell about the actual system itself.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, tell us about the 9/11 workers and how you got involved with all of these people who have gotten sick. We just came from one of your first showings before the premiere of the film, with 9/11 emergency responders who are sick.

MICHAEL MOORE: Right. Well, as you know, those of us who in New York here, where, you know, since 9/11, a lot of these workers who ran down there to help on 9/11 who were not city employees or state employees, but were just volunteers -- I mean, some people got across from New Jersey and came and helped. They were maybe volunteer firefighters from New Jersey, some were EMT volunteers, and they went down there to help. Some of them stayed there for months in the recovery effort. And they got all these illnesses, respiratory illnesses and things like that, from breathing, you know, the whole, you know -- while the EPA was saying, Giuliani was saying everything’s fine down there. You know, go ahead and breathe away. In fact, as we now know, it was very toxic down there. And hundreds, perhaps even thousands, have suffered as a result of the toxicity in the air at the time.

And then to find out that our own government and all these 9/11 funds won’t provide any help to these volunteers, because they weren’t employees of the city. So they’ve been going through all these illnesses -- and some of them not even seeing a doctor or can’t afford the operations or the things that they need, the medicines they need, because they don’t have health insurance. And they can’t work now, so they’re disabled, and then they have to go through a whole rigmarole to try and get Medicaid. It’s just -- I mean, making them go through hoop after hoop, very sad thing to see. And so, we got to know some of them.

And at the same time, I saw this thing on C-SPAN, where Senator Frist had gone down to Gitmo, because they wanted to show how, you know, we’re taking good care of the detainees, you know, where they’re getting all top-of-the-line prisoner treatment. And one of the things that he wanted to remark on -- Mr. Frist -- was how good the healthcare was --

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Frist.

MICHAEL MOORE: Yes, excuse me. Yes, of course, Dr. Frist. There’s another doctor. He then presented this list of, you know -- here’s all the colonoscopies that we’ve been doing, you know. And, of course, the first thing I thought when I heard that, I thought, “Colonoscopies? Hey, most of these detainees are, you know, in their twenties and thirties. You know, you’re not really -- you don’t necessarily have a colonoscopy ’til you’re fifty.” So that should have been your first clue right there something was amiss at Gitmo. But he has this whole list, Amy, of how many teeth cleanings they’ve done of the detainees, how many root canals. They do nutrition counseling.

AMY GOODMAN: Do they talk about the force-feedings of fasting prisoners?

MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, well, of course. That’s what’s called “nutrition counseling.” And so, he made this as part of this big, you know, thing about how wonderful they’re treated there, and we shouldn’t worry at all about them. Well, of course, irony built upon irony here, you know. And I thought, well, you know, here we have the 9/11 rescue workers who can’t get any healthcare. Here they are trumpeting how they have free universal healthcare, dental care, eye care, nutrition counseling, for the detainees. And I thought, well, why don’t we just take our 9/11 workers down to Gitmo and see if we can get some of that free healthcare they’re bragging about? And so, essentially, when you see the film -- I don’t want to give the whole thing away -- but that’s essentially what we go to do.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you get there?

MICHAEL MOORE: Geez, I wish I could tell you. You know, I’m being investigated now by the Bush administration for this trip I took, which they said that we went to Cuba, but my point is, no, we were going to Guantanamo Bay, which you claim as American soil, so we never really left America. I mean, we pulled out of Miami in the boat, and we ended up in Guantanamo Bay, which you claim as American waters. And so -- but, of course, you know, we ended up then in, you know, the actual nation of Cuba. And you’ll see in the film the wonderful treatment that the 9/11 rescue workers and the others I took got from the Cuban doctors and the Cuban healthcare system. But, so now they’re investigating me.

And I mean, you’ve been there. Have you ever received this letter threatening civil and criminal action against you? Or --

AMY GOODMAN: I did not.

MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, see? Well, it’s not fair! You’re Amy Goodman. You should get the first letter. What are you picking on me for? Anyway, so yeah, so I’m in the midst of this, so I’m not really -- I don’t want to say publicly yet how we actually got there, but I actually do have a boat in the movie, you see, and we are actually in Guantanamo Bay. And you probably have never seen anybody actually sail into Guantanamo Bay. You will, when you see the movie, see this, you know, for the first time. And, you know, and I’m the skipper.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you afraid of the mines or what you thought might be mines?

MICHAEL MOORE: Yes. Actually, I was more afraid of what they were pointing at us in the guard tower there on the US side of this demarcation line that’s in the bay. And I have to say -- I want to tell you -- I think I can say this much: the Cuban government was not exactly happy with my idea here of sailing into Guantanamo Bay, because they did not want an incident that would provoke the Americans or give them an excuse to do something against Cuba. And especially because it was me, you know, the Cubans perceive that Mr. Bush doesn’t like me very much, and so here I am suddenly, you know, tweaking their nose in Guantanamo Bay, and anything could happen. So we had to really actually talk quite a bit to the Cubans to letting us use their waters to get up close to the American waters there in the bay.

AMY GOODMAN: Is that area mined?

MICHAEL MOORE: Well, that’s what they say, yes. Yes, yes. Well, they believe the Americans have mined it, you know, so that no Cubans can get in there. I don’t know what the Cubans --

AMY GOODMAN: Cubans trying to break into Guantanamo to the prison?

MICHAEL MOORE: Sneak into -- yeah. Hey, don’t ask me to explain the actions of the US military. I, you know -- I don’t know what the Cubans -- I hate to say this, but, you know, when we were there, it doesn’t look like there’s a huge Cuban defense force, should the Americans ever decide to actually invade again, at least that route. But I’m sure they’ve got something planned if the Americans ever did that.

AMY GOODMAN: The emergency workers who you took to Cuba, talk about the healthcare system there.

MICHAEL MOORE: Well, you know, when they say that there’s a doctor in every block, that’s not a cliché. I mean, they’re really -- Cuba, per capita, has so many more doctors than we have. You know, there’s been a doctor shortage in America for a long time, and it’s been pretty much because the AMA doesn’t want anymore students in medical schools here, because they believe that if they keep the number of doctors low, those doctors get more money, as opposed to if we had a whole bunch of doctors, you have to share the pie a little bit more, so…

But the Cuban doctors, the Cuban healthcare system, I was very impressed with it. All the people we took down there were extremely happy with the treatment that they received. But they focus a lot on prevention, and because they do that, they end up not having to spend a lot of money on their healthcare. They don’t have the money. It’s a very poor country, as you know. And I was very impressed. And, you know, with what little they have to use with their healthcare system, they end up living longer than we do. They have a better infant mortality rate than we do. On a number of issues, they’re the same or better than us.

article originally published at http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/06/18/1326235.

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