Michael Moore ( right ) and film critic Richard Knight, Jr.
Filmmaker/activist Michael Moore is back with Sicko—the movie that has the health care industry shaking in its boots ( and rightly so ) . Moore has been touring the country promoting the film and speaking at rallies ( including a recent one at Chicago's Daley Plaza ) —trying to incite people to demand long-overdue changes in the insurance industry.
Windy City Times took part in a roundtable with the director:
Windy City Times: Whenever I see a film of yours I feel like it's a call to action, but what does one person do? What can I do walking out of the theater besides casting my vote or whatever?
Michael Moore: Well, that's important. Most people don't vote most of the time, right? I'll have things on my Web site; you'll be able to get involved and get behind a bill that's in Congress—HR676.
WCT: What does that cover?
MM: National health insurance; it creates a single-payer system. Nurses in towns all over America are organizing this issue. Push for this. Push the politicians to pass legislation so that we can have the system they have in, say, Canada or whatever.
WCT: How do nurses fit in the larger scheme of all this?
MM: Nurses are on the front lines of this problem. They see it every day. They see the doctors after they diagnose what the patient needs and, instead of just immediately giving what he or she needs, they've got to call and make sure the insurance will cover it. That doesn't happen in a single other country in the western industrialized world. A doctor sees you need something, [ and the ] doctor goes and gets it. That's the way it should be.
WCT: Americans, by nature, are impatient people. Is there a way to fast-track this process?
MM: We have to start somewhere. I mean, how about this: We already have one of the largest socialized medicine systems in the world—Medicare and Medicaid—okay, so we already cover tens of millions of people as it is. Then we have veterans; how many millions of veterans do we have that are covered by the VA? That's a socialized medicine system. So we have that.
Why don't we take the next step and let's cover the 9 million kids? I mean ... who wouldn't support the fact that a kid should have the right to see a doctor and not have to worry about paying for it? There's 9 million more. You know, maybe it will happen like that; I mean I hope it does. I hope it happens faster than that but I think it can expand and start taking care of more and more people. Maybe the easy way to think about this is Medicare for all.
WCT: We actually have ACT UP to thank for faster access to experimental drugs and for first putting the spotlight on the insurance companies—these clever tactics they use to deny coverage.
MM: That's true.
WCT: A militant organization 20 years ago did this kind of thing and affected a lot of change. Would an organization like that have a chance today?
MM: That's a good question.
WCT: Would those tactics work?
MM: Yes, I do believe that. I believe that's exactly what we need. We need that kind of direct action and I think it would work.
WCT: 'ACT UP. Fight Back. Fight AIDS.'
MM: For instance, what happened in the emergency in L.A. a couple of weeks ago where they were calling 911 because nobody was helping the person that was dying?
MM: I actually had a scene I was going to put in the movie encouraging people if the health insurance company is telling the doctor they can't treat you when you go to the hospital to call 911 and report an attempted murder. Because this is attempted murder and, in fact, sometimes it is murder because they're making the decision—as the doctor said in her testimony, 'I signed 'Denied' and I knew when I was doing that, that person was going to die.' It's a form of murder and I would like to see criminal charges brought against these people, and they won't do it until we the people stand up and demand it.
WCT: What was the most challenging part about putting Sicko together? What was the most surprisingly difficult thing you had to do?
MM: Reading those letters from the 25,000 people that were sent us. We read them all. I had my whole staff ( 10 people ) . It took 2 1/2 months to read. All we did was read e-mails everyday, and it was depressing. It was really tough.
WCT: Did you consider some gays and lesbians because, you know, we have special troubles getting our partners covered, I mean there's an actual level up of horrific stuff they can do. I'm just wondering if there was a person…
MM: No, but let me say this: I could have made a whole film about pharmaceutical companies, just a film about them. Twenty-five years ago there were 30 pharmaceutical companies that were working on cures and vaccines; today, there are five. There's no money in it.
There's a lot more money in dealing with HIV—in producing those drugs and the [ drug ] cocktail and the pills and everything you'll have to take for the rest of your life, as opposed to actually working on the cure or the vaccine for it. Because once you cure it you can't sell any more pills, right? And that's not the way it used to be.
We used to have people like Jonas Salk who would find the polio vaccine or work on it. You know, we had scientists and doctors who were committed to that and you take a guy like Jonas Salk—he wouldn't patent it. He said, 'This belongs to everybody.' The guy that invented the kidney dialysis machine wouldn't patent it. He said, 'This belongs to everybody.' These guys could have been billionaires but that wasn't the way they thought. You know, it was a different time. People thought differently. Now it's all about the money. It's all about the Haliburtons of the drug industry.
The whole thing with HIV is this: It should've been a full-frontal, full-force effort from the get-go and we all know the history of this. It wasn't, it was shoved aside and it was ignored; Reagan took seven years before he even said the word. A lot of people died that maybe didn't have to die and now, okay, there's some money in it, so let's not talk about trying to cure it—let's just try to maintain it. But, no, I know … I mean, I'll tell you, there's so many things we could do.
WCT: Where does your fire come from? What keeps you motivated? What keeps you pissed off all the time?
MM: Geez, I wish I knew that. I don't know. I was raised in an Irish Catholic home—maybe that says it all. I don't know. [ Laughs ]