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Grady is Sicko

Michael Moore's film unfolds in our own city

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It's true. Sicko, Michael Moore's new film about the American health-care system, is not a documentary if your definition of that genre requires objective reporting with all points of view represented.

But, if you watch a documentary such as Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me without complaining that McDonald's didn't get enough time to dispute that its food is poison, then you need to look at Moore's film the same way. It's like an editorial cartoon – highly subjective, witty, provocative and fundamentally true, even if it doesn't propose specific remedies.

Many critics, including the usual passel of hand-wringing liberals, complain about Moore's hyperbole and scripted staging. Most commonly cited is his appearing to show up in Cuba unannounced with several patients who are given medical treatment that insurance companies here denied them. In fact, the visit was prearranged.

Complaining about that is like complaining that Spurlock got fat and unhealthy because he subsisted on McDonald's for a month, rather than eating the crap occasionally. The bottom line is that McDonald's food is unhealthy. And the American health-care system is sick and getting sicker.

Atlantans don't have to look far to see that. Grady Memorial Hospital, our primary provider for the indigent and the uninsured, is on the verge of bankruptcy. The number of people who need the hospital's services has increased dramatically recently, as has the cost of health care itself. Meanwhile, politicians hold an infusion of capital hostage to reforms by Grady's petulant board of directors. Estimates are that the hospital will be cashless by October.

It is hard to imagine what goes through the heads of these "leaders." I suspect none of them has ever been in the situation of needing Grady's care. Anyone who has knows that Moore's film is no exaggeration of the condition of many, even if it exaggerates the efficiency of care in other countries.

One of Moore's more galling revelations is the way some hospitals are literally dumping indigent patients on the street at night. What enables this, of course, is a system more devoted to profit than health care. Moore shows film from congressional hearings that leaves absolutely no doubt that insurance companies and HMOs reward their employees for denying care, often through Kafkaesque reasoning. One woman, for example, was denied payment for an ambulance ride because she didn't get it preapproved. When she remarked that she was unconscious and unable to call for pre-approval, the insurance company basically replied that rules are rules.

Although my experience with my insurer, Kaiser, has been excellent during the last few years of several health crises, the insurance costs me $600 a month. Yes, that's right -- $600 monthly for one person. But even with that, related costs, including expensive co-payments for rehabilitation services and lost income, financially devastated me, just like the people in Moore's film.

Years ago, in my impoverished 20s, I came up against the class system that health care has become. I got very ill and friends took me to Piedmont Hospital's emergency room. I was so weak I couldn't lift my head. After a few hours, a doctor appeared and told me – I'll never forget his words – "You are extremely sick, but I'm afraid we can't treat you because you don't have insurance. You're going to have to leave."

At that point, I called my parents, who came with a wheelbarrow full of cash to pay for what turned out to be a two-week stay for scarlet fever. I might mention that the clueless doctor Piedmont assigned me allowed me to come close to death before he referred my case to an infectious-disease specialist who quickly diagnosed me.

Later, that doctor told me I would have been better off going to Grady in the first place, since that hospital had every kind of specialist on duty around the clock. I would likely not have gotten so sick had I gone there.

I recounted this experience here three years ago and mentioned an uninsured friend, still in his 20s, who had lost his voice. He had to wait many months to save the money to buy insurance so he could get the MRI his doctor ordered. He turned out to have cancer. He died a few months later.

Moore reports in his film that 18,000 Americans die every year because they don't have access to health care. That number will continue to increase unless we deal with the problem. The place to start is in our own back yard with Grady Memorial Hospital by giving the indifferent political upper class a healthy kick in the ass.

Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology. For information on his private practice, go to www.cliffbostock.com.

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