Preexisting Condition

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For KCRW, this is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

In his more ironic moments, Michael Moore calls his new documentary, Sicko, "a comedy about 45 million people with no health care in the richest country on earth."

But the only laughs in the film come from sheer amazement. In places, it's wrenchingly sad.

I caught a screening yesterday, and came out stunned at the greed and lack of compassion in the American health insurance industry. If you think that's a dry subject for a film, don't.

You should see it and become educated, as I did, about the extent to which your healthcare providers do NOT, in many cases, have your best interests at heart.

Sicko anecdotally documents that "many Americans eligible for insurance can't afford it, and a long inventory of preexisting conditions limits the insurability of those who can," John Horn wrote in the L.A. Times.

"Among Sicko's villains are politicians who pocket millions from HMOs and pharmaceuticals while denouncing universal care as little better than a Communist plot."

And yet you will marvel at how well people are cared for, at no cost, in Canada, Britain, France and, yes, Cuba, where the most moving sequence shows ailing 9/11 rescue workers getting the effective, efficient and courteous medical treatment they were denied back home.

Of course, given the movie's "socialist" tendencies, the blathering classes in the media will probably chop Moore and his premise to pieces. They'll call him a communist and a traitor and everything else they threw at him when he had the gall to question the administration's judgement in Fahrenheit 9/11.

There's already been some sabotage at work. Last week, Sicko, which is set for theatrical release on June 29, was pirated and made available on free Web sites.

Our friend Claude Brodesser-Akner, the Los Angeles bureau chief of Advertising Age, wrote that Moore and his distributor, The Weinstein Company, "have every film maker's worst marketing nightmare on their hands: how to persuade people to go to the theater to see a show that's available free on the Internet."

If enough people see the film for nothing and stay away from theaters, box-office revenues for Sicko could be a shadow of the $119 million pulled in domestically by Fahrenheit 9/11.

Sicko had already run into problems before the piracy fiasco became known. The sequence in which Moore escorts the ailing Ground Zero rescue workers to Cuba prompted the U.S. Treasury Department to look into whether Moore violated the U.S. trade embargo.

Last week, Canadian newspapers reported that Moore had stashed a copy of Sicko in Canada because he feared the U.S. government might try to seize the film before its release.

At the press screening of Sicko at the Cannes Film Festival last month, a Wall Street Journal writer observed "hardened reporters and critics" weeping, Moore wrote on his Web site.

"Aside from my stated desire that Sicko ignite a fire for free, universal health care, I continue to hope that I can make a contribution to the art of cinema and give people a good reason to get out of the house for a few hours," Moore wrote.

Unfortunately for him, the Internet might provide just as good a reason to stay at home.

People who monitor such things reported that thousands of Web surfers had downloaded portions of Sicko over the last few days, although at least one site, YouTube, yesterday removed links to the pirated $9 million documentary.

Undeterred, Moore bought a large ad in yesterday's Washington Post inviting health care lobbyists to a screening of the film tomorrow in Washington. He listed all their names.

"Bring this invite with you for admission," he urged them. I wonder how many will bother to show up?

They might learn a thing or two if they do.

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.



Nick Madigan