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The Hollywood Film “John Q” Takes On the Health Insurance Industry

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The Oscars are this Sunday. In 74 years of the Oscars, the most prestigious movie awards, only six acting trophieshave gone to African-Americans. But this year, much is being made about it being a good year for African Americans.The honorary Oscar will go to Sidney Poitier for his life’s work. 38 years ago, Poitier won best actor for Lilies ofthe Field. This year is the first time African-American performers could win both major acting categories. HalleBerry is up for best actress in Monster’s Ball and Denzel Washington for best actor in Training Day.

Today we are going to take a look at another Denzel Washington film, one that was released too late to be nominatedfor the Oscars this year. John Q was released five weeks ago, and this week it was the number 8 top-grossing movie inUS theaters. John Q may be unique among Hollywood films in its explicit intention to affect people’s opinions onhealth policy issues. Washington plays a father whose son is denied access to a heart transplant because hisinsurance policy doesn’t cover the $250,000 operation. The hospital refuses to put the boy’s name on the heartrecipient list unless his parents pay $75,000 up front. So Washington’s character takes the matter in his own hands.

Even before John Q was released, the health insurance industry had begun to spin its counter-message. Almost a weekbefore the film was released, Blue Cross Blue Shield charged that the film “reinforces ridiculous stereotypes abouthealth care, glorifies violence as a means of problem-solving and needlessly frightens the public.” The day beforethe movie opened, the American Association of Health Plans began running full-page ads in Washington and Hollywoodnewspapers declaring that “the fictional character John Q. has the wrong answer for America’s health care costcrisis.” What is it that has the HMO industry in such a tizzy?

Let’s listen to the film.


  • John Q preview clip


  • Elizabeth Benjamin, supervising attorney in the health law unit of the Legal Aid Society.
  • Archie Lamb, a lawyer in Birmingham, Alabama. He represents the California Medical Association, TexasMedical Association, Florida Medical Association, Medical Association of Georgia, and a large class of individualphysicians in suits against various HMOs. Lamb was designated lead counsel in the RICO lawsuit against HMOs pendingin the Federal Court in the Southern District of Florida.

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