The movie opens with a shot of a young man stitching up a laceration in his own knee. Another describes how he had to select which of two severed fingers would be re-attached because he could not afford both operations. They are among the millions of Americans without health insurance. But, the narrator says, the movie is not for them; rather it is for the majority of U.S. citizens who do have medical insurance and believe themselves protected.

Through a series of riveting vignettes, for-profit health care is shown to tyrannize the well, ruin the ill, and destroy families. It also erodes the psychological and moral fiber of the people working in the industry. Excursions to England, Canada, France and Cuba are presented in a series of encounters with physicians and patients, none of whom believe that they would be better off in the United States. A French doctor opines that he earns an adequate salary for a good quality of life. Even those seated in a Canadian waiting room profess satisfaction with the care given and understanding about delays. When asked why anyone would accept to pay the expenses of others, an elderly golfer explains patiently that it is what we do for each other in a caring society. Ex-pat Americans gather at a bar to describe their positive experiences with foreign health and maternity care.

Interviews with emotionally distraught people who have worked in the insurance industry reveal the relentless pressure to deny coverage and its reward system that favors those who generate the biggest savings. Special attention is given to Dr. Linda Peeno who testified before Congress in 1996, confessing that she had harmed people for the economic benefit of the insurance industry.

Moore gathers up a group of people whose sorry dilemmas within the U.S. system have left them with serious health problems. He escorts them to Cuba where physicians and nurses are only too pleased to diagnose and treat their illnesses– for free. The movie ends with an exposé of the superior health care given prisoners at Guantanamo and Moore’s stunt at trying to bring the unhappy Americans there for treatment.


Another challenging documentary by an acclaimed filmmaker whose penchant for using black humor to expose weaknesses in the American way of life has made his work as controversial as it is celebrated.

By focusing on the insurance industry, Moore has clearly identified the main reason why universal health care has not succeeded in the United States and why its system is “sick” in contrast to that of other OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. Opposition to universal health care does not come from politics alone, nor is it rich doctors against state-run systems. It is the private sector insurance industry that purports to “sell” health to a species that denies its innate vulnerability and inevitable mortality. Millions of jobs are dependent on this lucrative yet costly form of middle management, and citizens unquestioningly accept the notion that having insurance is absolutely essential for their “protection.” The whole mix is conditioned by lavish lobbying, which trades on perceptions of socialism and inferior technology in the nationalized systems, allowing private insurance to be emblematic of personal liberty and American technological know-how.

Some Americans tell me that, with Sicko, Moore has “gone too far”: the gripping stories are exaggerated; the message, twisted. They argue that he saw what he wanted to see, underplayed the problems in Canada, skirted around the private insurance issues that do exist in other countries, ignored the aspects of the U.S. system that actually are publicly funded either directly or indirectly through tax deductibility. More importantly, in his zeal to attack the insurance industry, he failed to come to grips with the fundamental characteristics of American political identity in the desire for "choice" and hatred of big government. That is, Moore had too much fun blaming insurance companies as the cause of the sickness and not enough on the pathologies of U.S. politics that generated the “sick” system itself, of which the companies are a symptom not the cause.

But for Canadian observers it is hard to agree. We watch this movie and find it funny, poignant, and profound. Moore has it right and he makes a fresh claim. Profit-making insurance companies, so cherished by healthy Americans who believe they can rely on them, are the source of high costs. Furthermore, they do not make people healthy—indeed the film shows how the insurance companies avoid helping the sick. In this context, the personal stories of emotionally distraught refugees from the industry itself are especially telling. The Canadian health care system is the most popular social program in that country, and all political parties know it. Although occasional doctors may gripe about incomes and wait times are irritating, no one who advocates an American-style system could win an election. Private insurance creeps along the fragile margins of Canada’s system but it is unwanted by the vast majority of its citizens – except when we must travel to the United States, when short term insurance covers the frightening gap between what sudden illness might cost in that country and what Canada will reimburse.

Primary Source

DVD Alliance