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Doctors, nurses, and health workers across the United States are demonstrating in support of Sicko, Michael Moore's film attacking the US healthcare system. They are calling for a single payer system to replace the US private insurance programme, which leaves about 46 million people, or 16% of the population, uninsured. Health care is a hot issue in the coming presidential campaign.
The demonstrating health workers, calling themselves “Scrubs for Sicko” and wearing white coats or scrubs, handed out leaflets at the screenings of Moore's film. The film, scheduled to open across the United States on 29 June, was shown in previews in Washington, DC, Chicago, and Manchester, New Hampshire, the state where the earliest primary elections to select candidates for party nominations for president occur.
The film opened early in one cinema in New York city last week. There, on a warm sunny afternoon on Broadway, nurses, doctors, medical students, and activists distributed information outside the cinema, posed for television cameras with their poster, “Health care is a human right,” gave radio interviews, and chanted “Hey, hey, ho, ho, insurance companies have got to go” and “Pills cost pennies, greed costs lives.”
They represented several groups: Physicians for a National Health Program, the New York State Nurses Association, the New York City Central Labor Council, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, the Student National Medical Association, and the American Medical Students Association. Together, these and other supporting organisations represent more than 100000 healthcare workers.
In Washington, DC, the House of Representatives committee on the judiciary held a press conference and briefing. Clips from Moore's film were shown. Three people testified (the statements are available at www.michaelmoore.com). Two described how, although they had health insurance, their loved ones had been denied treatment and died. One woman brought her seriously ill 18 month old daughter to the nearest hospital and was told that she could not be treated because the hospital was not part of the woman's healthcare network; the child died shortly after transfer to an “in-network” hospital.
A nurse told how her husband was denied a bone marrow transplant for renal cancer on the grounds it was “experimental”; he subsequently died. The third witness testified how a Los Angeles hospital dumped seriously ill patients at a shelter for homeless people because they did not have health insurance; one died.
The House committee on the judiciary is chaired by the Michigan Democrat John Conyers Jr, who has introduced a bill that would establish a single payer health insurance system programme for all Americans instead of the profit making health insurance companies that now dominate the market.
Sicko criticises the US health insurance lobby, which, it says, paid huge sums to the campaign funds of leading politicians—nearly $900000 (£450000; €670000) to President Bush, for example—to support a bill requiring elderly Americans in the Medicare insurance plan to sign up to one of a confusing number of plans offering drug discounts (BMJ 2006;332:1352 doi: 10.1136/bmj.332.7554.1352). The bill, passed in the middle of the night nearly four years ago, prohibited Medicare from negotiating drug prices with manufacturers, leading to higher prices for Medicare users and the Medicare administration.
The film says that there were four drug company lobbyists for every member of Congress when the bill was being discussed. Representative Billy Tauzin (Republican, Louisiana), who led in getting the bill passed, now heads the US drug industry association the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).