This past weekend I watched Michael Moore’s new movie Sicko. The movie was fairly entertaining as it attempted to persuade the audience that universal health care is the way to go in the U.S. It was, however, a far from accurate portrayal of health care in the U.S., Cuba, France, the UK, and Canada.
The film starts off with a handful health insurance horror stories. It next moves to different countries to show how these health care systems are superior to the American model. Mr. Moore makes it seem as if care in Europe and Canada is free, of the highest quality, and of unlimited supply, while the U.S. system is expensive and no one receives the needed care.
While the movie does a good job of showing how private insurance companies ration care, it does not show that Europe is also rationing care. In the American system, private companies do deny care to some people or drop them from coverage if they are ill (which is a serious problem). However, the Canadian and European systems also ration care through longer wait times and not covering certain procedures. For instance, a Commonwealth Fund 2005 International Health Policy Survey (slide 16) shows that 41% of patients in the UK and 33% of patients in Canada waited more than 4 months for non-emergency surgery,. Only 8% American patients waited more than 4 months for surgery. In Europe and Canada, rationing decisions are made by government bureaucrats instead of corporate bureaucrats.
Also, to pay for a centralized health care system, taxes in the UK, France and Canada are much higher than in the U.S.
“Moore’s premise — that over-reliance on Third Party Payers results in bureaucratic interference in medicine — is sound. But his remedy — to create one colossal Third Party Payer in the federal government — will only make the existing problems that much worse. “
Yet one cannot dismiss Sicko out of hand. It is a serious problem that insurance companies have an incentive to drop or withhold care from individuals who develop a chronic conditions. Insurance is supposed protect people against this type of risk.
While Sicko has some important critiques of the American system, I am as of yet not convinced that socialized health care is best option for the U.S. Nevertheless, Sicko should be credited with putting a spotlight on the ails of the American health care system.