Publisher’s Note: Would ‘Sicko’ Prescription Make Us Sicker?

September 1, 2007
Ken Karpay

Michael Moore, the auteur provocateur, has invented a new genre of film: enter-rage – entertainment intended to outrage its audience.


In his latest documentary, “Sicko,” Moore examines American healthcare, comparing it to systems around the world. He then delivers his diagnosis for what ails us and prescribes what he believes is the cure.

While watching “Sicko,” I couldn’t shake the question: Is even half of this true?

For example, Moore dedicates a scene to a man who has accidentally cut off two of his fingers. The man is faced with a dreadful decision: which finger to reattach because he can’t afford both.

Well, with the benefit of hindsight, we at least know that many of Moore’s past critiques have proved true.

Nearly two decades ago, Moore took on General Motors in “Roger and Me,” suggesting that its business strategies would eventually drive them out of business. What seemed preposterous in 1989 is not inconceivable today.

Five years ago, in “Bowling for Columbine,” Moore took aim at gun owners, advocates, and laws, claiming that unless major changes were made, our schools and other public facilities would likely be visited by more violence. He proved tragically prescient on this count.

Then in 2005, Moore leveled his camera at the Bush administration and the mainstream U.S. media. He charged that the U.S. offensive in Iraq following Sept. 11 had little to do with fighting terrorists and was more about making money. The war in Iraq, he asserted, would fail and would do little to curb worldwide terrorism.

Ever since Moore announced plans to take on healthcare, I’ve watched, waited, and wondered. Whom would Moore depict as villains? How would he treat physicians? Let’s start with the villains since there are so many of them, according to Moore. Capitalism itself is one. So too are managed-care payers that feed at the trough of healthcare premiums.

But physicians don’t draw Moore’s ire. You, my friends, are seen as mere pawns, sympathetic bit actors who are denied the power to treat patients as you see fit. This is a significant break with the stereotype of doctors as Lexus-driving, golf-playing, money-grubbing elitists. Moore characterizes physicians as victims, just like U.S. consumers.

Moore’s prescription for healthcare is simple: Adopt a national system that makes government employees of private practice physicians and other providers. Many Americans believe this would be disastrous, that similar schemes have failed in country after country around the globe. Moore sets out to disabuse us of this notion.

He takes us to Canada to reveal patients who do not wait endlessly for care, as many in our country think they do; to Cuba to reveal surprisingly state-of-the-art medical technology and practices; and to England to demonstrate that physicians there can live very comfortably despite tight government controls.

Moore points to systems that are already nationalized in our country as examples of how successful it could be - the U.S. Postal Service and public education. Not exactly models to be replicated.

But when it comes to healthcare, Moore’s critique may be on point, but, in my view, his solution is flawed.

Ken Karpay is the publisher of Physicians Practice. He can be reached at kkarpay@physicianspractice.com.

This article originally appeared in the September 2007 issue of Physicians Practice.