Summary of Michael Moore's "Sicko"

by Erik Arvidson
Michael Moore's 2007 documentary

Michael Moore's 2007 documentary "Sicko," is highly critical of the U.S. health care system.

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

"Sicko," a 2007 documentary film directed by Michael Moore, criticizes the U.S. health care system that leaves millions of Americans who can't afford private medical insurance without adequate health care while insurance companies put profits ahead of patient care. The film also criticizes the fact that pharmaceutical companies give large donations to elected officials, keeping drug prices higher than in other nations. In addition, the film portrays the national health care systems of Canada, France, Britain and even Cuba as superior to the health care setup in the United States.


The film's primary criticism is against health maintenance organizations, or HMOs, which are portrayed as profit-first companies that arbitrarily deny medical care to patients. It traces the current U.S. health care system back to a February 1971 taped conversation between President Richard Nixon and John Ehrlichman, a top presidential aide. Ehrlichman explains that the proposed legislation, the Health Maintenance Organization Act, would increase the market for HMOs, and that "all of the incentives are toward less medical care, because the less care they give them, the more money they make." Nixon answered: "Fine."


"Sicko" features the stories of several Americans who have become entangled in health care red tape. Among them: A man who died after he was denied a bone marrow transplant that might have saved him; three rescue workers who can't get federal assistance to receive treatment for respiratory problems after responding at Ground Zero during the September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York; and a baby who died after her mother took her to an emergency room where she was refused treatment, rather than to a hospital covered by her insurance company. The film says about 15 percent of Americans were uninsured at the time the film was made, and that about 18,000 die each year because they don't receive adequate screening or preventive care.

Other Countries

For much of the second half of the film, Moore highlights several nations where health care is publicly funded by taxes and where people don't need to pay at the point of use: Canada, France, Britain and Cuba. Moore interviews British doctors who say they are pleased with the quality of health care and feel they are well paid. A French couple say they do not feel like they are highly taxed for health care. People who are interviewed in the waiting room at a Canadian hospital say they don't have to wait long for medical care. Finally, the film says that detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp in Cuba receive free health care.


Most criticisms of "Sicko" focus on omitted facts, especially those portraying other nations' health care systems as better. For instance, CNN reported that the film failed to mention that in other countries, there are quotas and planned waiting times. In addition, if people want access to care beyond what's included in the universal basic coverage, they must pay for it themselves. "Sicko" also does not mention that the U.S. health care system ranks highest in the world in patient satisfaction, according to CNN.

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