Friday, September 14, 2007


I'm Looking for Free!

Won't we like to visit a doctor, and be provided preventive advice during a regular checkup. Or how about instead of worrying just how much those consultation charges are going to be, we get a world class doctor who basically just cares and is genuinely concerned with our well-being, and getting us cured of our sickness?

That's the kind of feeling you get when watching Michael Moore's latest documentary SiCKO. While he rages on and uncovers the deficiencies in the US healthcare system, he waxes lyrical about the free healthcare systems of various countries, while at the same time, comparing how doctors under different systems fare. We all know that doctors make a lot of money, but some make a lot of money because they are specialists and charge sky high fees for their services, that you can't help but wonder if it's money over patients. Then again, in what is termed the socialist medicine model, where doctors are akin to civil servants, being paid a fixed salary with variable components tagged to the welfare of the patients, you wonder too if that is probably a better system altogether, that those genuinely want to heal people, get into the profession, and those who want to make money, well, go work at the pharmaceutical companies.

In any case, Moore dresses his documentary up in his usual sexy manner. He again drums up and creates a rally behind his objectives, and it's easy to fall prey to his viewpoint. There are merits to the better models he presented, or how non profit organizations, for the love of healing folks, can come up with 24hr on-call services, truly making healthcare not only affordable, but within physical reach. And he contrasts this with the cold, calculated way in which Americans are treated.

And there's the flaw with privatizing healthcare, leaving it into the hands of, god forbid, insurance companies. It's almost common sense that premiums are always easy to pay, provided you satisfy many of the pre-conditions, but when it comes to the claim, that's where the real problem starts, as you'd come to expect delays, challenges, combing the fine print for some ambiguous clause just to starve you off any legitimate payback. I seriously hope we don't get our monies trapped in such schemes (ahem, annuities?). And when we're talking about life and death, it's ideal to leave little room for contracts and negotiations - life takes priority.

In that sense where security and education comes into play, we leave it to the powers that be, and shouldn't healthcare be so as well? Short of labelling it as the restriction of freedom and choice as some would have it argued, it actually comes with widespread social acceptance, and of course, taxes. You must be willing to pay to receive subsidized, or even free benefits. Otherwise, where do all these funds come from? And this is where Moore conveniently skips, or mentions in extremely brief passing. There's no such thing as a free lunch, though neither is it a zero sum game, and there will be two sides carved out - those who just want to enjoy the benefits without contributing to it, and those who resent paying for someone else's welfare. Not everyone can be like the Canadians :) Different strokes for different folks, depending on which set of values one subscribes to.

So as Moore uncovers ideal benefits in the healthcare systems in the UK, France, Canada and even Cuba, he doesn't address the other social ills and resentment that comes along with it. But of course, since this is a documentary, and naturally the points that make the final cut must all support the filmmaker's vision. If compared to his earlier works, SiCKO comes across as more mature though, with its sexy arguments made against a very serious presentation and tone, void of all the quirky animations, and have rather limited snark remarks, not that they're not present.

But the best bits about it, is how he pieces together the corruption in the whole system, including those in seats of power. As we know, some politicians can be persuaded with funds to assist in their respective lobbies, and it is no surprise where these healthcare insurance companies put their money on. Politicians on payrolls, in a nice way, are nothing new. And seriously, nobody can fault a private enterprise into achieving its prime objective in a market economy, and that is to maximize profits. Money can be used to cover the heart and soul, so why not use it to an advantage.

SiCKO is crafted shrewdly in the hands of Moore, and frankly, brought its points out rather well. The much anticipated Guantanamo Bay excursion though was much ado about nothing, given the widespread publicity of the potential trouble Moore might get into. But the real gem of the movie though, is the lesson on how to shape one's arguments - place incessant focus on the good parts to debunk what currently doesn't work, because the bigger picture will always be able to puncture arguments presented within a 2 hour picture. It's never easy to find a right balance for any social issue, or life for that matter.

I just have to make sure, as I told a friend, that I have a plan on what to do if I'm diagnosed with a serious condition, given rising health care costs here as well. And by the looks of it increasing in time to come, the plan definitely includes the reluctance to line the coffers of the doc treating me.

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