Moore’s “Sicko” wins but loses race

By Guest Columnist Jun 26, 2007

Michael Moore is getting lots of attention for his movie "Sicko" that exposes America’s health insurance system that works to save more money than lives. So I was excited going to see it this past weekend. But in telling the stories of insured and uninsured Americans blocked from life-saving treatment, Moore leaves out many voices of color. Instead, viewers are imbibed with stories about hard-working white Americans struggling to get treatment from a country they are so loyal to. While Moore is known for being fearless, when it comes to tackling the issue of race in "Sicko", he lacks courage. Though there was the white mother whose Black husband died from terminal cancer because his insurance company denied his claims to receive a bone marrow transplant; and Dawnelle, a Black mother whose 18-month-old daughter died because her health insurance would not allow her to be treated at the hospital they had been taken to by an ambulance– overall, the movie avoids the very crucial issue of racial disparities even among those ignored. To Moore, it seems, the battle for robust universal healthcare should not coincide with welfare campaigns or fights for structural equity in our economy. These fights are too racially charged. And they run the risk of polarizing us when Moore has said in many interviews that healthcare should be a non-partisan issue. Because of this, the movie is in-your-face but side-stepping at the same time which may appear strategic when it is disastrous for racial justice activists seeking more than universal healthcare. The movie gains ground however when Moore frames America’s insurance problems in historical and global contexts. It’s a shame he lacks a racial context. At one point, Moore reveals a tape that is a conversation between President Nixon and John Ehrlichman, one of his top aides. In it, they decide to pass legislation that would initiate the expansion of HMO’s. Nixon was won over when Ehrlichman said, “Edgar Kaiser is running his Permanente deal for profit. All the incentives are toward less medical care, because the less care they give them, the more money they make.” The next day, Nixon announced to the public that he would be pushing legislation that would provide Americans "the finest health care in the world." Several decades later, Moore finds that finer healthcare is more at home in a world outside America in places as unimaginable as Guantanamo Bay. In one scene, Moore takes white 911 rescue workers who—like most 911 workers—are denied proper healthcare for chronic and debilitating diseases caused by the toxic crumbling of the Twin Towers, to Guantanamo Bay where prisoners have access to world-class medical care. Of course, Moore’s request for care is denied. They then go to the mainland of Cuba and receive excellent care. These moments are priceless in the movie and go a long way to making a case for standard health care for everyone. Still, a pressing question remains: can we afford to make race invisible even when talking about universal healthcare? –Sara Rosell, an intern at the Applied Research Center, is a junior rhetoric and ethnic studies major at the University of California-Berkeley.