Friday, June 29, 2007

Sicko turns film critics into health care concern trolls

Hillary's 1993 health care plan, was stopped dead in its complicated tracks by the Harry and Louise TV ad campaign that convinced much of America that government was about to take away their right to choose. So, instead, for nearly 15 years insurance companies have been doing everything to us that Harry and Louise said the nasty government bureaucrats were going to do to us. Sort of like socialized medicine, for-profit -- i.e., all of the headaches and few of the benefits.

That's if you're lucky enough to be insured in the first place -- which more than 40 million Americans aren't. As a result, there's plenty of discontent and pressure for reform -- and a large, potentially receptive audience for Michael Moore's new film, Sicko.

Moore also learned an important lesson from the 1993 debacle -- namely, if you want to influence public policy in America, check your complexities and nuances at the door. Go for the gut, with a simple, even simplistic, message communicated with feeling. Leave the fine print for legislative committees and late-night talking heads on cable. Most film critics understood that Moore was trying to mobilize public opinion for health care reform and judged the film accordingly. Most gave it pretty good marks. Some commented that it reflected a new maturity for the populist filmmaker and was, if anything, more restrained than some of his previous outings.

But, inevitably, the topic brought out the inner concern troll in some critics, who just could not resist pointing out that Moore was undermining the very cause he was trying to promote, with a simplistic approach that exhibited none of the subtlety and sophistication of the critic's own (highly concerned, of course) views. For example, the WaPo's Stephen Hunter morphed overnight into a concerned and combative health care policy wonk eager to debate the fine points.
His anecdotes draw pointed contrasts with Europe, as he returns to France and England as examples of superb health-care systems, but the comparisons are never put in any kind of context. France and the United Kingdom each has a population of around 60 million, a fifth of America's 300 million. Is it easier to administer a program so much smaller? I don't know, but I'm not investigating health care; he is, he should and he doesn't.


Moore seems shocked to discover that some insurance companies offer incentives to employees -- doctors and investigators -- who turn down claims. But absent that, would the system work if everybody got what they wanted when they wanted it and there was no adjudication, no prioritizing? What would those economic consequences yield? The question goes unanswered because it goes unasked.
Hunter goes on to personally urge America to fix its little "boo-boo." And in parting , he tells Moore in no uncertain terms what he should do.
Someone has got to fix it, or make it fairer, negotiate the unbelievably complex issues and balance sound economic sense with fair play. America, fix your boo-boo. As for Moore, it can only be said: Filmmaker, heal thyself!
The New Yorker's David Denby is quick to point out complexities that, in his view, Moore abjectly fails to analyze.
But the candor of these doctors is no more impressive than that of the corporate spokesmen Moore has confronted in the past. No one mentions the delays or the instances of less than first-rate care. We find out that a doctor in Great Britain makes a good income (about two hundred thousand dollars), but not how medical care in, say, Toronto might differ from that in a distant rural area, or how shortages may have affected the quality of Cuban health care.
Denby then goes on to propose the most disingenuous dismissal of Michael Moore I've seen yet. There's been a shift to the left! The problem is already solved! Michael Moore has made himself obsolete!
In the actual political world, the major Democratic Presidential candidates have already offered, or will soon offer, plans for reform. A shift to the left, or, at least, to the center, has overtaken Michael Moore, yielding an irony more striking than any he turns up: the changes in political consciousness that Moore himself has helped produce have rendered his latest film almost superfluous.
Yeah, right.

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