OHA Health Achieve 2009 – Day 2 Keynote: Michael Moore

Today’s keynote was Michael Moore the infamous director Sicko, Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, Farenheit 9/11, and most recently Capitalism: A Love Story. Here’s a running summary of the topics.

The session started off with a short clip from Sicko about his relatives purchasing health insurance at Sears for a short trip (couple of hours) to Michigan. The clip also profiled some additional Canadian stories from London, Ontario and London Health Sciences Centre. It was a very interesting introduction to his session. I think the clip hit a bit of a patriotic chord.

Moore talked about his experience running a show back in 1998, TV Nation, and a specific episode of a "health race" between Ft. Lauderdale, Toronto, and Havana, Cuba. The challenge was to treat a broken bone case and the participants were evaluated based on the time to treat and costs. Cuba ended up winning because in Toronto the hospital charged $10 for a set of crutches. Apparently, the NBC censor wouldn’t let the show air as is because it was "against policy" to allow Cuba to win. As such, Toronto/Canada won.

Next he talked about the current state of the health care debate in the US given the media bombardment over this issue. Apparently, some in the US portrays Canada as a "third world country with long line-ups and people dying in the street waiting for treatment". Moore offered anyone in the office to trade their OHIP card for his Director’s Guild health care plan card – no-one took him up on the offer even if the person can have the same "health card" as Steven Spielberg.

He then talked about the process of getting an appointment and seeing a physician in the US. Takes three weeks to get an appointment with the GP. First question – what’s your insurance? And then you wait. The physician’s office is fighting with the insurance companies to get reimbursed. Physicians, who Moore calls "Demoralized Doctor Dave" nets about $50,000/year after paying out expenses. After examining Moore, the doctor then leaves the exam room to check to see if they can refer the patient to a specialist.

Moore points out that something seriously wrong with US system. How is government health care so wrong when the government is supposedly "for the people by the people"? Sarcastically, Moore states that the US has government health insurance that isn’t Medicare or VA Health. The real government is the US health insurance companies who buy the laws.

According to Moore, medical bills are the #1 cause of bankruptcy and foreclosure. The sub-prime issue isn’t the #1 cause of foreclosure. The reason is that the health care industry punishes people when they get sick. One example is of a hospital hiring foreclosure companies to go after a person’s home to pay the bill. A Harvard study noted that 46,000 people die in the US because of lack of health insurance.

Moore then went to talk about a Bill Moyer episode with a a former Signa health insurance executive. The executive admitted that what health insurance companies tell you in the US is a lie about health care in Canada. Competing health insurance companies put aside our differences to discredit Sicko and the push for health care reform.

He then started an extended session of stating some startling facts:

  • 14,000 will lose health insurance each day
  • US spends more than any other country on health and yet is ranked 35 (Canada ranked #30)
  • The Democrats bill is not a good bill. It will not fix the system. Health insurance companies windfall.
  • Everone required to buy health insurance if their employer doesn’t provide but the insurance must be from a private company, not a public option. The private options have with little cost controls.
  • The Bill only covers 2% of population for the public option
  • Health insurance companies are projected to make an additional $70B per year and yet 13M people will still not have health insurance
  • Drug companies got a side-deal to stay out of the fight by reducing costs by $8B in the first year. However, drugs will cost $10B more this year in preparation for next year
  • A New York Times report over the weekend analyzed the speeches and found 20 of the democrat speeches and 22 republican speeches were virtually identical to one another. Speeches were written by health care lobbyists (Genetech).
  • Moore’s local representative, Bart Stupack, held up the health reform bill to prohibit inclusion of plans that offer abortion
  • 50M people in the US do not have adequate access to food, 17M struggle to for food on a daily basis

Then, Moore started talking about some of the causes of the issues in the US:

  • In Detroit, 70% of high school students drop out
  • There are 40M functional illiterates in US (only 4th grade reading level)
  • Therefore, it is very easy to persuade people based on ads becasue population is ingorant and uneducated
  • What kind of country would do this to itself? What kind of country would "attack" itself?
  • Education is such a low priority in the US
  • 3 of 4 children would not be able to join the army because they are not fit enough (i.e., overweight and out of shape)

He then shared an interesting story of how he plays a game called "Stump the Canadian" when he speaks in the US to illustrate a point. He’ll ask for the "smartest" American in the crowd (someone who gets As) to come-up and also the "dumbest" Canadian (someone who got Cs). Inevitably after a series of questions, the Americans know very little about Canada or the US whereas the Canadian knows more about the US. As a punishment, Moore makes the American sing the Canadian national anthem.

Moore then pointed out some challenges and issues for Canada. In addition to being ranked 30th for quality of health care, the social safety net in Canada has been cut and is eroding. This all started when Mulroney had his "weird threesome with Reagon and Thatcher" [LMAO!] and got out a big pair of scissors and cut the social safety net. Subsequent governments have continued this trend. As a result, Canada has seen the following "American" characteristics:

  • Move to more private clinics for the privileged
  • Moore: What’s going on here? What’s happening to you? Why do you love to be like us?
  • If you allow this privatization to continue, the result will create two Canadas with money being the factor

Moore pointed out that the core Canadian principle is: "We’re all in the same boat and we all sink or swim together". Canada needs to preserve this idea and principle. Shouldn’t allow doctors to be in the public and private program. Parliament can make any law it wants to do the right thing. Moore ended with a few points:

  • How would Canada feel if people died without any health care coverage?
  • Canada needs to nip this in the bud now
  • Americans admire Canadians because you don’t have a desire to kill each other. Even though Canada has a higher per capita gun rate than the US, the violence is so much lower. Why?
  • If Canadians want to see how a private, American style health system works, all you need to do is look across the river to see how a "two country" system works
  • Canada is a true friend to the US because it isn’t afraid to tell a friend they are full of sh*t. The best example is when Canada wouldn’t participate in invasion of Iraq
  • Canada realized that you can’t fix the problem with guns in Afganistan. People need to solve their own problems
  • Moore: Please help America – America needs to become more like Canada
  • Why? Canada does things a little differently
  • Canada has problems
  • Dental is treated like a luxury but it’s so necessary. Dental care is critical and is the precursor to many other health issues.
  • The viscious cycle starts by cutting the simple but critical thing?

He then went on to address the elephant in the room: How do we pay for this?

  • Stop supporting US ventures
  • Make the wealthy pay
  • Counteract the US, disinformation advertising about Canada’s "socialist medicine"
  • We need to share resources. Americans need to change their attitudes. An article by Toronto Star columnist, Linda McQuaig is (unfortunately true):  Americans would rather die than share.
  • It is amazing how much power and control corporate America has over things – a study by a university (didn’t catch the institution) concluded that the message of both Democrats and Republicans is virtually the same as both sides receive money from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries.

Question & Answer session

  • How do you stay optimistic about the country you love? Not a cynic. Not all is lost. People are good at the core. As long as we live in a democracy there is hope. Even though the wealthiest 1% who have more than the bottom 95% combined, the rich only have 1% of the vote. People will rise up. We are capable of pushing past and doing the right thing to consider another possibility. I’m tired after 20 years of doing this. Last film was most personal and hard to make
  • Frank McKenna advised increasing private share of health care because of efficiency – saddened to hear that. Private sector has annihilated the economy. The profit motive has ruined the US. More crises to come all fueled by profit. Why would you ever attach the word "profit" with health? This is absurd. If the government isn’t doing its job. You fund it. You put in new politicians but you don’t throw the baby out by politicians making the wrong decisions. Americans and private sector will try to drag Canada down the road. Moore: People in the future will think that profit + health is insane and judge us accordingly.
  • Thoughts on government as a general insurer – yes. It should. Health is necessary as a right and a security issue. Need a healthy nation to protect itself.
  • Middle America and tea party protests – Part of it is ignorance enforced by the media. Much of this is funded by wealthy corporate interests. Not many tea party protests, but they are very loud. Very good at manipulating the hurting and the fearful. The problem is that the millions are not engaged politically.
  • Post-secondary education not funded beyond undergraduate – average college graduate in US leave college with $30-50k in debt. Once you’re in debt, that’s when they have you. US is spending $4B/week to support Iraq
  • Why can’t we have a system that meets both private needs and public? Because it goes away from the concept of solidarity. Wait times speak volumes about you that you are willing to endure the crap you do to ensure that everyone has coverage
  • Religous right and Jesus – The religious right hijacked Jesus. Corporate and religious right got married in convenience and hijacked Jesus. What would Jesus do today – didn’t he say to take care of the least and most vulnerable?

Very entertaining, passionate, and enjoyable. It turned into a bit of a love-fest for the Canadian system, but I think his main message was clear – private health care does not work. I will definitely have to watch Sicko.

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