Geoff Bond's
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Michael Moore
A missed opportunity to promote American health care reform

The American health care system is, by common consent, dysfunctional. It presents an easy target for any campaigner to scandalize us with its sometimes corrupt, arbitrary and venal practices. However, to be persuasive, the arguments need to be accountable, honest and evidence-based. 

Michael Moore’s production is gimmicky and superficial. Moreover, it is shamelessly manipulative, treating us to heart-jerking scenes of tearful, hopeless cases bankrupted by medical bills or grieving over someone who died from treatment refused. He then tours other countries health systems viewing them without exception through rose-tinted spectacles. As grateful, sobbing American patients scoop up cheap medicines in Cuba, he comes to the conclusion that “socialized medicine” not only can work, it is to be welcomed. 

But the truth is that no country has a fully socialized system and those that are closest to it (like the UK) are also approaching melt-down. Every advanced country in the world is wrestling with the intractable problem of finite resources colliding with infinite demand.

American insurance companies need to reduce the number of policy-holders falling sick, and of ex-patients having relapses. They therefore have a powerful incentive (not present in socialized systems) to undertake sickness prevention programs.

The big diseases that health systems have to deal with are eminently preventable, in fact they are self inflicted: cancers, heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and so on. As an aside I, as a nutritional anthropologist and a Brit, find myself frequently commissioned by the American health system to give courses to doctors and their patients, something that never happens in my own National Health Service - or “National Sickness Service” as some wags call it.

Michael Moore certainly gives many good reasons for not falling into the clutches of the American healthcare system: the politicians in the pay of Big Pharma and the Insurance Companies, the arbitrary nature of health cover, the total absence of cover for many citizens. But the bigger message is that it is no fun for anyone to fall sick wherever they are in the world – and it is possible, in large part, to avoid it! [[Deadly Harvest]] One only has to contemplate an obese Michael Moore shambling around before the camera to wonder how long before he too will succumb.

There is an intelligent, thoughtful and well researched documentary to be done on health systems (by all means holding up the American system as one to be avoided) – but this is not it.