by Michael F. Cannon
Michael F. Cannon is director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute and coauthor of Healthy Competition: What's Holding Back Health Care and How to Free It.
First, Mike, I want to thank you for inviting me to the Washington, D.C., premiere of your new movie SiCKO. You invited me even though you knew I was likely to criticize the film's prescription for health care reform.
Of course, we both know that's exactly why you invited me. You knew that I'd criticize your proposal that the U.S. adopt a government–run health care system, and that would bring added media attention to SiCKO in advance of its nationwide release this weekend. You created the news hook, and we both got the opportunity to air our views on health care reform. It was a win–win.
I want you to know that I've held up my end of the bargain. I've criticized SiCKO in whatever medium I could: from blog posts and podcasts to The New York Times. And I haven't held back. In one review, I even wrote, "from a policy standpoint — and I say this more in sadness than in anger — SiCKO was so breathtaking a specimen of ignorant propaganda that it would make Pravda blush." You just can't buy that kind of press.
I have to say, by making such a one–sided movie, you certainly made my job easier. For example, you show American patients who were denied medical care by greedy for–profit insurance companies. But you ignore the fact that power–hungry politicians do the same thing in Canada, Great Britain, France, and Cuba. I suppose that's why the Canadian journalists at the Cannes Film Festival gave you such a grilling.
You laud socialized American institutions like public education and the post office. But you never mention that Americans criticize those same institutions for their high costs and poor quality.
You extol the virtues of France's economic system, which seems to have socialized everything right down to laundry service. But you never tell your audience that taxes in France are 50 percent higher than in the U.S., or that the French unemployment rate is double the U.S. rate. Instead, you just ask several bons vivants if they feel like they're doing well. (Mais bien sûr!)
For the record, Mike, I have also praised SiCKO for its sense of humor, for exposing the silliness of our ongoing embargo of Cuba, and for highlighting some of the more insane aspects of America's health care system. In the notes I took during the film — I know, I'm such a nerd — I actually wrote, "Thank God MM is telling these stories."
It is insane that insurance companies have so much say over what is "medically necessary." But why do you never mention — or don't you know? — that our own government hands that power to insurance companies by penalizing insurance that lets patients decide what's medically necessary?
It is insane that those 9–11 rescue workers had so much difficulty getting medical attention. At the D.C. premiere, I spoke with Reggie Cervantes, John Graham, and Bill Maher, as well as two other rescue workers who didn't go to Cuba. All five of them told me that they had health insurance on September 11, but that they lost their insurance when they lost their jobs.
Why don't you tell your audience that the U.S. government was partly responsible for Reggie, John, and Bill losing their insurance? After all, it is Congress that ties health insurance to employment. If Congress stopped meddling with health insurance, people like Reggie, John, and Bill could get coverage that sticks with them through the rough times.
You're also correct that the health care industry has way too much influence in Washington. But what do you expect? Congress directly controls almost half of our health care spending, and controls the rest indirectly. With so many of our health care decisions being made in Congress, is it any wonder that industry spends more than any other to influence Congress?
The way to reduce the industry's influence is to take those decisions away from Congress and return them to the people.
When we spoke before the D.C. premiere, you apologized for leaving a clip of me on the cutting room floor, and suggested that we get together sometime to discuss health care reform. I'll forgive you for the former if you'll make good on the latter. We may not agree on everything, but we share a sharp distaste for the status quo.