Michael Moore has acquired a reputation for himself as a producer/director of award winning documentary films. Films such as Fahrenheit 911 and Bowling for Columbine were acclaimed by critics and the general public alike. So, when news came of yet another venture from his production company in 2007, expectations were quite high. The film Sicko deals with the ailing health care system in America, which is widely believed to be the most inefficient among advanced nations. Moore compares the healthcare systems of Cuba and the United States as a way of showing the deficiencies of the latter. But, in spite of Moore’s claims to an objective and factual portrayal of the subject matter, the reality is not as simplistic as the filmmaker would have us believe.
Though there are certain merits attached to the Cuban health care system, it has its own set of drawbacks whichMooreunderplays in the documentary. It is agreed that the Cuban healthcare system works on a ‘socialist’ model, with emphasis on universal reach of free healthcare to all citizens, which is in direct contrast to the ‘for-profit’ motive with which hospitals, doctors and pharmaceuticals tend to work in theUnited States. Mooreis quite correct in his assessment of the American healthcare system with respect to those inCanada,Britainand Scandinavian countries. For example, despite being the leading economic superpower, the healthcare costs inAmericaare the highest and the medical outcomes the poorest among all countries in the West. Moorepresents to the audience first hand accounts of his visits to hospitals inBritain. The National Health Service is the public funded government agency which caters to the health care needs of all British citizens, irrespective of their socio-economic background. Here, the patients do not have to incur any ‘out of the pocket’ expenses. Further, medicines are given away free of charge for children below the age of sixteen as well as those above sixty years. For the rest, only a nominal charge is applied.
The general thrust of Moore’s arguments is quite true; but he is at places guilty of overstating the negative aspects and under-emphasizing the positive qualities of the American healthcare system, especially when he compares it with Cuba. In his article titled ‘The Myth of Universal Free Health Care in Cuba’, Carlos Whitlock Porter compiles together supportive evidence for his thesis. The following passage, which is extracted from his research project, depicts the underlying dark realities of the Cuban health care system:
“Cuban doctors were overwhelmed with a health crisis in the making. Without seeds, without gasoline for its tractors, the country was unable to plant sufficient crops. There wasn’t enough food in the markets or on the tables. Many people survived on semi-starvation diets, enduring up to 12-hour blackouts and water shortages. More than 50,000 Cubans, particularly children and old people, developed nerve-related disorders (neuropathies) from lack of vitamins.Chinatried to help by shipping two million bicycles toCuba… Normally cycling would be good exercise, but it’s not recommended on an empty stomach.” (C.W.Porter, 2008)
Hence, while Sicko is a documentary film worthy of its popular and critical acclaim, it at times presents a biased view of the American health system. At places, drawbacks of the privately owned hospitals, pharmacies and professionals are blown out of proportion. Equally detrimental to the integrity of the documentary film are the under-emphasis given to some of the blatant disadvantages endured by the people ofCuba, under the authoritarian rule of Fidel Castro.
C. W. Porter, The Myth and Realities of ‘Universal Free Health Care in Cuba, retrieved from http://www.cwporter.com/cuba.htm on18th May, 2008
Medicina Cubana: “Re-examining the Cuban Health Care System” retrieved from <medicinacubana.blogspot.com/2007/07/re-examining-cuban-health-care-…> on 18th May, 2008