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USA 2006
Directed by
Michael Moore
113 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Michael Moore goes back into battle, this time aiming his fire at the American health system, especially the insurance companies, and showing how overseas health systems are so much better and compassionate.

Michael Moore is by now almost an institution, famous for his attacks on gun laws in the USA (Bowling for Columbine, 2002) and the Bush administration (Fahrenheit 9/11, 2004). This time he goes in to bat for the health system and the many people who are either uninsured or who are insured but get fobbed off with countless excuses by their so-called health providers (a topic explored in Francis Ford Coppola's The Rainmaker, 1997).

In contrast to his previous films, here Moore takes a (slightly) gentler approach, allowing individuals to speak of their own experiences and using archival footage to show politicians (such as Nixon) as being in cahoots with the corporate health insurance companies. It’s the same old story, with the bottom line being that profit-making rules at the expense of fair play. It’s not surprise that when health insurers are large corporations we’re all in a lot of trouble. We learn of Hilary Clinton’s efforts to get universal health care and how they were defeated by a scare-mongering political campaign that put the fear of communism into the American people.

Moore shows people sewing up their own wounds because they cannot afford to go to hospital patients being turfed out onto the streets in their nightgowns, or with IV drips still in, when it is revealed they are not insured. He also interviews some ex-workers from the insurance companies, and we see one of them weeping as she recalls interviewing sick people, fully knowing their claims would be refused. What’s even worse, we learn that on occasions an insurer would pay a claim then trawl through the patient’s records for some obscure piece of information which they would then use to disallow the claim. Moore exposes insurance companies refusing to pay for common treatments for cancer, claiming the procedures were “experimental”, and then the patient dies. He interviews doctors in charge of claims who baldly say that denying care saves the company money. There are further horrific indictments of the US system, when volunteer workers from Ground Zero, who later develop nasty illnesses, are refused healthcare because they weren’t government employees. It’s all so ghastly.

Then Moore heads off to London and France to compare their health systems. There are some funny scenes, as Moore goes in, playing the sceptic and asking questions that typically anti-French and anti-Brit Americans would ask only to be told how fabulous the system is in those two countries. What emerges so cogently is the contrast between the socially-responsible approach to health care in those countries. As one interviewee significantly says, “You judge a country by how it treats its worst-off people.”

For me this is by far Moore’s most entertaining film, with his blend of humour, cynicism and scary revelations. I suppose the main criticism of any Moore film is he only ever shows things from one side, but if this is any harbinger of what could happen in Australia, we’d better all pray not to get sick!




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