...and don't get sick in the United States.
We finally got out to see Sicko as part of a week-end near-orgy of cinema going. To be precise, three films in three days, which is my limit for the month. In fact, we had to counter-balance Saturday night's viewing of 'Sicko' with going to see The Simpsons Movie on Sunday. A funny film, no doubt, but frankly I was hoping for a least one oblique Doctor Who reference, just to appease my own geekish tendencies.
Commentators all over the field have already analysed Michael Moore's latest film from an exhaustive number of angles, so my remarks are more of a personal nature. I watched the film having seen a good deal of the advance publicity through various media sources, including the dust-up between Moore and CNN's lamentable Dr Gupta. I'm neither a Mooropogon nor a Moorophile; and I do generally feel that Moore carries his premises slightly too far in his films - there is a level of excess that I can't easily define in each one that I've seen. I've wondered about it, and come to the conclusion that he assumes (probably rightly) that subtlety is not going to get the message across. And 'Sicko' is unquestionably a film with a message.
Leaving the film, bidding our good-nights to our friends who had come out with us, there was that same sort of stunned silence that I remember from going - with the same friends, T. & W., to see Fahrenheit 9/11 three years before. Journeying home (by last week-end 'Sicko' was only playing in one cinema that I could find, half an hour's drive away), G. and I had plenty of time to discuss our reactions to what we had seen. Her response was essentially straightforward: "we need to move out of the United States".
I should be very clear here: this would be a long-term plan: one that might be realised in fifteen to twenty years. But unless there are some substantial, and even, arguably, radical changes to several things in the United States, it's going to happen. Why? At least one reason is clear: people are being bankrupted by having to pay for health care. I don't think that this statement is anecdotal, apocryphal, or hyperbolic in any way. In fact, it was brought home by an unfortunately gentleman at Tuesday night's Democratic Presidential candidate's debate. Personally, I've known people who were quite young who had to declare bankruptcy because of insurmountable medical expenses not covered by insurance. My own circle has been comparatively lucky in this regard, but there is a growing sense that the "safety net" of insurance may well become a noose if a few more threads of regulation are cut. As long as the US is a country where the profit motives of insurance companies and the advertising budgets of the pharmaceutical makers bankrupt innocent people who just happened to become ill, then there is something very rotten at the heart of the system.
The counter to this arguement is usually something like this: corporations provide jobs. If corporations did not have a profit motive, then they would not employ as many people. I have to suggest that this is a load of dingoes' kidneys. A company depends on workers - not only to do whatever that company does, but to purchase its products. A company can either be a citizen or a parasite. I don't think I'm suggesting anything particularly surprising when I say no one likes a parasite, or indeed to say that if there were a hell, parasites would certainly be damned to spend a particularly nasty aeon or two there. We don't need to dredge up the fresh ghosts of Enron and Global Crossing to make this point, do we?
So would we go abroad? Aside from some logistical concerns, I don't have any problem with the idea of leaving the US in principle. We discussed Britain, Canada, and France, where G. was rightly a bit worried about having to rely on my rusty French (as well she should be =), but that's neither here nor there. We're both in our thirties now, reasonably well-insured through our workplaces, and neither of us wants to spend the next thirty years worrying about getting injured or becoming ill, and how we might pay for it.
And that, in short, is what's wrong with the system. The US has become very adept at putting the interests of capital far ahead of those of the people, which is exactly the reverse of how it should be. The function of all of these corporations can no longer be to bleed citizens dry during their most productive years and then throw them to the fishes when they later become ill. If we allow it, if we don't vote to legislate against it and make our legislators listen, then who do we have to blame? By the bye, this argument could be used on a host of other issues, too. Government will get away with whatever we allow it to get away with, dangling participle or none.
One of the most interesting things said about governments in 'Sicko' was voiced by an American expatriate living in France. I'll have to paraphrase: the reason that the French government gives so much in terms of health care, wellness, child care, and education is because the government is scared of the people. The French do protest somewhat routinely, and they also have retained much more of the spirit of their Revolution than Americans have. But I would have to add, from my own experiences and (somewhat slipshod) reading, that the French also realise the value of an educated, engaged, happy and healthy population. While there are certainly problems with the French government, as there are with any government, one might suggest that they have learned the lesson better than the people who originally inspired the French Revolution: Americans.