As Michael Moore called for legal action against health insurance executives, lawmakers also heard testimony from several people featured in "Sicko." Dawnelle Keys talked about how her 18-month-old daughter died after being denied treatment at a hospital. Andy Bales of the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles testified about how hospitals dump patients on Skid Row. And Dr. Linda Peeno spoke about her work as a medical reviewer for the health insurer Humana. She says she denied one patient a life-saving operation to protect company profits.
After Michael Moore spoke at Tuesday’s health care briefing in Sacramento, lawmakers heard testimony from several people featured in his film Sicko. Dawnelle Keys talked about how 18-month-old daughter Michelle died in Los Angeles in 1993 hours after being denied treatment at a hospital.
- Dawnelle Keys, testifying Tuesday before California State Assembly.
Andy Bales of the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles testified about how hospitals dump patients on Skid Row.
- Andy Bales, testifying Tuesday before California State Assembly.
After Dawnelle Keys and Andy Bales testified, Michael Moore urged lawmakers to take action against health care executives.
- Michael Moore, testifying Tuesday before California State Assembly.
Doctor Linda Peeno also spoke in Sacramento on Tuesday. She is a former medical reviewer for the health insurer Humana. This excerpt from Sicko features Peeno testifying before Congress in 1996.
- Dr. Linda Peeno, in excerpt of "Sicko."
On Tuesday Dr. Linda Peeno spoke about her work as a medical reviewer for the health insurer Humana.
- Dr. Linda Peeno, testifying Tuesday before California State Assembly.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: After Michael Moore spoke at Tuesday’s health care briefing at the State Legislature in Sacramento, lawmakers heard testimony from several people featured in his film Sicko. Donnelle Keyes talked about how her 18-month-old daughter Michelle died in Los Angeles in 1993 hours after being denied treatment at a hospital.
DAWNELLE KEYES: On May 6, 1993 my 18-month-old daughter Michelle became very ill. She was vomiting, had diarrhea and was having trouble breathing and a very high temperature. I called an ambulance, which took her to the nearest emergency room at Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center in Los Angeles. The doctors believed she probably had a bacterial infection, which could be treated with antibiotics. But he didn’t conduct a simple blood culture or treat her with antibiotics because our health plan, Kaiser, told him not to. You see, Martin Luther King hospital was not a Kaiser facility. Kaiser said the simple test and treatment had to be done in a Kaiser hospital. But Michelle became sicker and sicker. She became lethargic and unresponsive. I pleaded to them. I pleaded for her treatment. And no one would give her antibiotics. Over two hours later Michelle had a seizure. Only an hour after that Michelle was transferred by ambulance to Kaiser. Within 15 minutes of arriving, she died.
I went to court to hold accountable those who were responsible for Michelle’s death. As my attorney put it, Michelle died, not because a doctor didn’t know what to do, but because of her health care coverage status. We won our case but, sadly, the jury award was cut to a fraction of what they felt was fair because of a horrible California law that caps damages in these kinds of cases called MICRA. This law has been on the books since 1975 and should be re-appealed. My case is a good example of why we need guaranteed and universal health care in California and in America. No one should ever have to go through what my family had to go through. I hope the movie Sicko, which I am proud to be a part of on behalf of my daughter, helps achieve that goal. My daughter was not treated and died because she was in the ER that was not affiliated with her health plan. This should never happen in America. Had it not happened, my daughter would be 15-and-a-half years of age and enjoying high school. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Dawnelle Keyes daughter died in 1993. Andy Bales of the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles testified on how hospitals dump patients on Skid Row.
ANDY BALES: Unlike some unfortunate souls who are dumped or dropped off on Skid Row, I worked my whole life to end up on Skid Row, and I finally made it. I want to make sure no human being is left on the streets of Skid Row. Three years ago, my predecessors found that a woman had been dropped off by a hospital. She walked in with an IV in her arm, sat down in our guest area and died 10 minutes later from pneumonia. We set up what is now called a hospital dump can out in front of the building. And in the fall of 2005, we had a gentleman show up in a gurney, having seizures and the hospital attempted to drop him off, but the captain of the police force, Andy Smith, happened to be at our place in a meeting, he ran down, intervened, made the man — the ambulance driver–put him back in the ambulance and sent him back to the hospital. Shortly after that, in December, an undocumented day laborer showed up covered in blood. He’d just been released from a hospital in Arcadia, brought all the way to downtown Skid Row, walked in, we took him back to our guest area and shortly thereafter, he became so ill from the beating he had taken right before he went to the hospital, that we had to call the medics and haul him back to the hospital. He stayed there for several days.
That was publicized. I think eleven hospitals were documented as doing drop-offs. It was somewhat publicized. But in March of 2006, I was standing outside with the moms from the Mission, waiting for their kids to return. Their bus had been in an accident, so I was out much later than I normally would have been. I couldn’t believe my eyes as the cab pulled up and did a u-turn. And a little lady in a nightgown stepped out of the back of the cab, unassisted, was given no directions to our door. She’s several hundred feet from our door. She started walking northward on San Pedro to some of the meanest streets in the United States. Fortunately, I was there. I called the Captain, Andy Smith. I sent a staff person to rescue the lady that I later found out was Carol Reyes. Hospital document showed she had high blood pressure, a low-grade fever, had dementia so bad that she didn’t know time or place. Yet she was brought 20 miles to be dropped off on to the meanest street of our city.
Every good thing that happened to Carol Reyes after it hit the national and world news, every good thing that happened to her could have happened had she been treated like a human being in the first place. She was given a checkup by a social worker and doctors. She was deemed not to be competent. She was given a public guardian. She was given a lawyer. She was put into a group home. Today, she’s being cared for in a wonderful way. But, every one of those good steps could have been done in the first place rather than after she made the national news.
Unfortunately, there have been over 35 hospital drop-offs since Carroll Reyes made the news. One man, a paraplegic, dropped off without a wheelchair without a walker, dropped himself out of the van onto the curb with his clothes in his mouth and colostomy bag ruptured. Fortunately, one good thing that came out of this was that twelve homeless witnesses stepped forward and said enough is enough. No more of this kind of treatment for human beings.
I would like to just share a scripture from the Old Testament. As the Jewish people were heading back to set up their city, they received instruction from God through the prophet of Isaiah. It says I’ll take joy in Jerusalem, take delight in my people. No more sounds of weeping in the city, no cries of anguish, no more babies dying in the cradle or old people who don’t enjoy a full lifetime. 100th birthdays will be considered normal. Anything less will seem like a cheat. I want to steal an idea from Michael: That we need to move away from the "pull yourself up from the bootstraps", winner-take-all, me-centered society and move to a we-centered society. That is why I am here to encourage you today. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: After Andy Bales of the Union Rescue Mission and Dawnelle Keys testified, Michael Moore urged lawmakers to take action against health care executives.
MICHAEL MOORE: What I would like to know is, if it is possible for a bill to be introduced. For, until we are able to eliminate these health insurance companies from making decisions like they made in causing the death of Michelle, to make it a criminal act for a health insurance company to do what they do to Dawnelle and her daughter. I would like to know why that can’t happen. I would like to encourage local prosecutors and district attorneys to consider filing manslaughter charges, premeditated murder charges, against these companies. That is really what it is, isn’t it? I would like to see the executives of these companies in a perp walk, in handcuffs, brought out. Kaiser ended up having to pay a minuscule amount of money to Dawnelle. But, really what we needed to see was the arrest of their executives. When Andy Bales and Captain Andy Smith, and eventually what the city attorney did in Los Angeles was to go after Kaiser, criminally, for dropping people off, dumping them on the street in their hospital gowns. It is a criminal act. It is exactly what should happen to them. And I just wonder how long we’re going to tolerate this as a people.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Dr. Linda Peeno also addressed the California State Legislators in Sacramento Tuesday. She’s a former medical reviewer for the health insurer Humana. This excerpt from Sicko features testifying before Congress in 1996.
LINDA PEENO: I am here primarily today to make a public confession. In the spring of 1987 as a physician, I denied a man a necessary operation that would have saved his life and thus caused his death. No person and no group has held me accountable for this. Because, in fact, what I did was I saved a company a half a million dollars with this.
AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, Doctor Linda Peeno spoke about her work as a medical reviewer for Humana.
LINDA PEENO: I should say right from the beginning that when you see the film this afternoon, you’re gonna think that I’m an imposter, because when Michael’s team called me about a year ago to talk to me about the film, I was actually so despondent about health care that I couldn’t give an interview. So they had to use the old material. And so it was just so exciting for me to see all those nurses today. I just cannot tell you. After twenty years of trying to get people to pay attention to exactly what Michael said, and what shocked me into this and the thing that will be the focus in the movie is that as a young, naive physician twenty years ago, I realized that with just a flick of a pen I could condemn a person to death and did, all because he was expensive. And I have already seen references to the fact that that case is too old, it is a mere anecdote, all the things that came out when I testified eleven years ago before Congress. But, when I testified in 1996 in May before Congress about this case, I realized just the other day as I was thinking about this, I could give exactly the same testimony again, exactly, word for word, I would only have to add that things have become unimaginably worse. I think the thing that had begun to defeat me over the past couple of years is the thousands and thousands of e-mails I would get from people every week, to the point where I couldn’t even stand to turn my computer on.
I think that we’ll hear a lot about how managed care is going away, these horror stories don’t occur anymore. But they do and they occur in worse and worse forms. I think we will, for all the humor and for all the excitement, I think we have to remember that, for me, the reason why the Heart case was so important is because it is really the tip of a huge pyramid of preventable suffering and preventable death that has occurred over twenty years, really thirty years, because the HMO Act was passed in 1973. There are untold people whose lives have been affected by this.
I think when Michael said that we can’t just tinker with health policy here and there a little piece of legislation a little patient right’s protection. It is even more fundamental than that. I think that we have created a culture that devalues life and devalues the care of other people and our care for one another. I am thrilled that we are here today with nurses. I hope there are doctors here. I know there are doctors in the audience I met two that are friends of mine. But I hope there are other doctors here that are going to represent the kind of healing and caring for medicine and their work that we need. Because I think that the thing that has almost defeated me is we’re losing the heart and soul of medicine. That is a dangerous condition that we are going to pay dearly for, and are paying dearly for and maybe with some of our own lives. I read in one of the commentaries about the movie so far is that this isn’t a middle class problem. Not only is it a middle class problem, you know, I ran into somebody just a couple of months ago, a businessman, a wife who is a professional, you know, they were living the American dream, big house, private school for kids, you know, everything imaginable until one of their daughters became ill in college. They began to lose everything. So I think that at every point, anybody who feels comfortable because they think they’re protected by money, or insurance, or power, or anything else will be badly mistaken.
I think the one last thing that I would like to say with regard to the movie is that I hope it expands beyond health care. I think Michael is right. We are an individualistic society that doesn’t feel any responsibility for one another. And you know, I have spent the past twenty years seeing how health care system is a microcosm for the other systems. I hope this movie helps us to cause us to ask how we value one another in our lives, in our deaths. What values do we want to have? And why do individual human stories fail to move us? The perplexing question to me still is why did it not move people in 1996 when I, as a doctor, testified about how easy it was to cause the death of somebody? And then as I proceeded to spend ten years trying to get people to understand what was happening. So I think this is our moment in time. I don’t think we will ever have another moment. I would like to end with a quote from Abraham Joshua [unknown] a theologian that says, "Few are guilty but all are responsible."
AMY GOODMAN: Linda Peeno. Dr. Lena Peeno is a former Humana medical reviewer testifying before the California State Legislature now and 1996.