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Ahead of “Sicko” Release, Michael Moore Brings Healthcare Campaign to California State Assembly

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Michael Moore’s campaign to overhaul the nation’s healthcare industry has officially begun. On Tuesday, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker joined 1,000 members of the California Nurses Association in a rally outside the California State House to secure guaranteed healthcare for all in this country. Moore also testified at an unofficial legislative briefing inside the State House. The organizing coincides with the upcoming release of “Sicko,” Moore’s new documentary on the nation’s healthcare system.

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StoryJun 14, 2007“Sicko” Interviewees Tell Harrowing First-Hand Stories of U.S. Healthcare Failures
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Moore’s campaign to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system has officially begun. On Tuesday, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker joined 1,000 members of the California Nurses Association in a rally outside the California State House to secure guaranteed healthcare for all in this country. Michael Moore also testified at an unofficial legislative briefing inside the State House. The organizing coincides with the upcoming release of his new documentary on the nation’s healthcare system called Sicko. In a moment, we’ll hear Michael Moore in his own words, but first a few scenes from the movie.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We got an issue in America: Too many good docs are getting out of business; too many OB/GYNs aren’t able to practice their—their love with women all across this country.

NARRATOR: When Michael Moore decided to make a movie on the healthcare industry, top-level executives were on the defensive. What were they hiding?

SECURITY GUARD: That’s not on, right?



LEE EINER: The intent is to maximize profits.

MICHAEL MOORE: You denied more people healthcare, you got a bonus?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: When you don’t spend money on somebody, it’s a savings to the company.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: I want America to have the finest healthcare in the world.

MICHAEL MOORE: Four healthcare lobbyists for every member of Congress. Here’s what it costs to buy these men and this woman, this guy and this guy. And the United States slipped to 37 in healthcare around the world—just slightly ahead of Slovenia.

LINDA PEENO: I denied a man a necessary operation and thus caused his death. This secured my reputation, and it ensured my continued advancement in the healthcare field.

NARRATOR: In the world’s richest country…

MARY MORNIN: I work three jobs.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: You work three jobs?


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Uniquely American, isn’t it? I mean, that is fantastic.

NARRATOR: Laughter isn’t the best medicine.

LAURA BURNHAM: I get a bill from my insurance company telling me that the ambulance ride wasn’t pre-approved. I don’t know when I was supposed to pre-approve it. After I gained consciousness in the car? Before I got in the ambulance?

NARRATOR: It’s the only medicine.

MICHAEL MOORE: There was actually one place on American soil that had free universal healthcare.

MICHAEL MOORE: Which way to Guantanamo Bay?

GOVT OFFICIAL: Detainees representing a threat to our national security are given access to top-notch medical facilities.

MICHAEL MOORE: Permission to enter. I have three 9/11 rescue workers. They just want some medical attention, the same kind the evildoers are getting. Hello?

NARRATOR: Michael Moore’s Sicko.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of Sicko. Well, on Tuesday, Michael Moore addressed over 1,000 members of the California Nurses Association in Sacramento.

MICHAEL MOORE: I am honored to be here today, to be able to join with you in a very important movement that is already taking place all across this country, because the American people are fed up with this broken healthcare system. And, of course, it’s the nurses who are on the front lines of this war. And it is a war. It’s a war against greed. It’s a war against health insurance companies who are more interested in lining their pockets than caring for the people of the United States of America. And you, as nurses and doctors, you see this every single day.

NURSE: Yes, we do!

MICHAEL MOORE: You see the effects of what happens when a hospital, that’s owned by some corporation, someplace nowhere near the town you’re in, that’s controlled by health insurance companies that make decisions about whether or not you can treat the patients that you’re there to care for. What kind of sick, cruel system is this? It’s sick, isn’t it? Right, it’s the real Sicko, isn’t it?

There’s no room for the concept of profit when it comes to taking care of people when they’re sick. That question of “How will this affect our bottom line? How will this affect our profits?” that is an immoral question, and it should never be asked! There’s no room for compromise here. There’s no room for the health insurance company in an emergency room. There’s no room for a health insurance company in a hospital room. There’s no room for them in the executive headquarters of their own companies, because I believe that we have to eliminate the private health insurance companies from our healthcare system. We have to get rid of them once and for all. It’s time for them to go. It’s time for them to go! It’s time for them to go!

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Moore addressing over 1,000 members of the California Nurses Association. When we come back from break, he’s inside the State House addressing lawmakers, along with others who talk about their experiences with U.S. healthcare. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Anticipation for Michael Moore’s new film, Sicko, is high among supporters of universal healthcare. Michigan Congressmember John Conyers has said, quote, “The release of Michael Moore’s 'Sicko' is one of the most important developments in the national debate on our health care crisis since the Clintons attempted to pass universal health care legislation in 1994.” On Tuesday, Michael Moore addressed California lawmakers in Sacramento at a special briefing.

MICHAEL MOORE: In making this film for the last couple of years, actually, the film grew out of a story I did back in 1999. I had a TV show called The Awful Truth, and I became aware of a young man who was fully covered by Humana health insurance, one of the largest health insurance companies in the country. And he worked full-time at a national drug store chain. His diabetes had reached a point to where his doctor decided that he needed both a kidney and a pancreas transplant. Humana, his health insurance company, approved the kidney transplant but denied the pancreas transplant. Reason why the nurses are laughing is because they know, without the pancreas, the kidney and the life doesn’t continue to exist. It’s one of many ways that health insurance companies try to trick up the system, make it look like they’re doing something for their clients, when in fact their bottom line, their primary goal is to make as much money as possible.

I took this young man to Humana headquarters with my camera crew, and I asked them if they would please pay for his pancreas transplant. They said not only would they not do that, they showed us the door. But out on the front lawn of this headquarters of Humana in Louisville, Kentucky, as we were ushered out, we then decided to hold the man’s funeral a few months in advance of when he’d actually be dead. So, with the man present, and his priest and the pallbearers and the bagpipes and the casket, we conducted his funeral on the lawn of Humana health insurance systems. They were so appalled and embarrassed and frightened by what we had just done and how this would look on national television, that within three days they agreed to pay for the pancreas transplant and thus save the man’s life.

Although that ran for only 10 minutes on a cable channel called Bravo, I began to think at that moment, if we could save one man’s life in 10 minutes with nothing more than this tool, this camera and a microphone, what else could we do? And so, well, I thought, “What could we do in 120 minutes? How many lives could we save?” And initially, I started out by let’s go after Aetna, let’s go after Blue Cross of California, let’s really take on these people. And then I thought, “But wait a minute, that’s going to miss the point here.” The problem isn’t just Blue Cross of California or Humana or Pfizer or Eli Lilly or the Hospital Corporation of America and the Frist family. The problem isn’t just them. The problem is the system itself. It’s the system that’s broken. And fixing one little piece of it here and one little piece of it there is not going to provide universal health coverage for all Americans. It simply won’t happen in our lifetime if we continue along this path. And so I began to feel that what had to happen here was a complete change in the system. I don’t know how many people are aware of this, but the number one cause of bankruptcy now in the United States are medical bills. The number one cause of homelessness are medical bills.

And in this film that you’ll see tonight, we obtained some of Nixon’s famous White House tapes. But these aren’t the discussions about Watergate. I will show in this film, on February 17, 1971, a conversation between John Ehrlichman and Richard Nixon. And they are about to put forth the bills that would bring us the modern-day HMOs. And Ehrlichman says to Nixon, “Now, there’s one more piece of this we have to figure out. We want to talk to the vice president about this, and it’s about these health maintenance organizations, like Edgar Kaiser’s Permanente thing,” as he put it. And Nixon interrupts him, and he goes, “I don’t want to talk about any of these damn medical programs.” And Erlichman goes, “No, wait, wait, this is a private enterprise one.” And Nixon goes, “Oh, OK, I like that.” And then Ehrlichman essentially boils down what would become the health insurance system that we now have today. Ehrlichman says to Nixon, “The genius of Edgar Kaiser is what they want to do here is to try and provide as little care as possible, so they can make the biggest profit possible.” And suddenly Nixon lights up. And he says, “Oh, OK, this is great, fine, not bad. Let’s do this.” And that’s what they did. Once they understood what the basic premise was, that it was to provide less care for more profit, that was something that they loved. And that is the system that we have.

And the reason why—as our friend here said, the reason why we have to eliminate health insurance companies—I mean, they literally have to be removed from the equation. The reason for this is, is that there’s no room for them, because there should never be room for the word “profit” when you’re trying to make a decision whether or not to provide somebody care when they get sick. Bottom line. You can never allow this to happen. And they can’t make a profit unless they deny care, unless they deny claims, unless they keep people off the rolls who have pre-existing conditions or kick people off the rolls who have diseases that become too expensive for them. They can’t make a profit.

And so, let me just pause for a second and say something on behalf of the health insurance corporations in America. Our laws state very clearly that they have a legal fiduciary responsibility to maximize profits for the shareholders. If they don’t do that, they could be put in jail. So they are required by law to turn as big a profit as they can. And the only way they can turn the big profit is to not pay out the money, is to not provide the care. So, therefore, there is no way that this can work. There’s no way that we can continue to have these health insurance companies making these decisions. Nor should we have private, profit-making hospitals making decisions. The hospital that has to make a decision based on the bottom line as to whether or not to provide care, this is absolutely antithetical to basic human rights.

And we’re the only country in the Western world that doesn’t believe that it’s a human right to provide free universal health coverage for every one of its citizens. We’re the only country that—and this is what’s so amazing, isn’t it? Because we’re all Americans. You know, we’re amongst the most generous people on Earth. We’re a good people. We have a good heart and a good soul, and we have a conscience. We know right from wrong. And the fact that we would allow nine million of our children to go uninsured, nine million children across this country, we won’t even insure the children in America. What is wrong with us? That’s not who we are, that’s not what we used to be about. You know, this every-man-for-himself attitude, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, you know, you-got-your-problems-I-got-mine, you know, don’t-bother-me, you know, this me-me-me-me-me, that’s not how they exist in these other countries—in Canada, in Britain, in Ireland, in France, these other places. They believe in we. We. They believe we’re all in the same boat, and we sink or swim together. They believe that if too many people fall between the cracks, their society suffers as a result of it. What happened to us? I think we used to believe that somewhere along the line, somewhere way, way back.

You know, my grandfather was a country doctor. He was paid with eggs and milk and a chicken every now and then. He did it because he cared for people. He didn’t do it to make money. You know, the sad thing about the American Medical Association is that they have fought every good reform for the people in this country in the last century. They fought Social Security. They fought Medicare. You’ll see in my film the head of the AMA back in 1962 giving a big speech about how dare we help old people with Medicare. It’s really weird to look at it now, like to actually see a doctor saying such a thing. But that’s where the AMA—well, I think a lot of doctors these days—and, of course, the AMA, they were all behind the HMOs when Nixon and that whole thing started in the '70s. But doctors now are amongst the most demoralized people in this country, because they realize they've been given the shaft by the insurance company. And what used to take one person sitting behind the glass when you went in to the doctor’s office filling out the forms, and there’s now five or six people back there arguing on the phone with the insurance company to get a $15 bill paid. How much is that costing us? Well, actually, there are statistics. We know how much it’s costing us. The overhead goes up to 30 percent of a health insurance company’s budget, 30 percent it costs for overhead, red tape, bureaucracy, paperwork.

I did a little thing out on the street, just stopping people. And I said, “Now, you know, these private health insurance companies, they spend up to 30 percent on overhead and red tape and all this. What do you think the government spends on their bureaucracy, their paperwork for their health program, Medicare and Medicaid?” And people would say, “Well, let’s see, if Aetna and Kaiser is spending you know, 25, 30 percent, well, it’s got to be 40 percent, if the government’s doing it, right? The government’s got to be 50 percent.” I said, “No, it’s 3 percent.” That’s how much it costs to run Medicare and Medicaid: 3 percent. You know, in Canada, they run their entire free universal healthcare system, total overhead, total bureaucracy, 1.7 percent of the total healthcare budget.

We have listened to this for the last 30-plus years about how the federal government is bad. State government, big government, big government, bad, bad, you know? And it’s like, how did we ever cop the attitude that the government of, by and for the people could be bad? Because the government’s us. And we’re not bad. I don’t understand this. I don’t understand. But they’ve done a good job, haven’t they, convincing the average American: “You don’t want to get the government involved.” When somebody says to me, you know what I say to them? I said, “You know, really? You don’t want the government involved? Ask your grandparents if that Social Security check comes every month.” And it not only comes every month, my Dad said, it comes on the same day—through the government-sponsored U.S. mail. And remarkably, it’s the same amount every month! They actually get the check right. How do they do that? Tens of millions of seniors every month get a Social Security check on time for the exact amount! We, the American people, have fallen for this myth that government is bad. It’s only as bad—I heard Al Franken say a couple months ago, he said, “You know, the Republicans, they run on a platform of 'The government is bad. It's evil. You don’t let the government run things.’ And then, once elected, they spend the next four years proving themselves right.”

You know, this whole thing, what you’re attempting to do here in this state, I read a story that Blue Cross of California is already promising to spend $2 million. I’m sure they’ll spend a lot more than that fighting you, because this is the last thing that they want to have happen. And they’re going to fight this because—and they’re going to try and scare people. “Socialized medicine. Ooh, socialized. Bad.” Really? Isn’t that what our police departments are? Socialized? Run by the government? Free service? Do you think anybody would ever ask if the fire department should have to post a profit? You know, do you think—I mean, seriously. Would we allow a fire department to, every time they get a call for a house fire, when they arrive at the house, determine whether or not this is going to affect the fire department’s bottom line? We wouldn’t allow that, would we? Well, when someone is wheeled into a hospital, that question should never be asked. Never. That’s an immoral question amongst a humane—in a humane society, to ask that question, “Where is the profit here? How is this going to affect our bottom line? How are we going to make money off this sick person?” I mean, this doesn’t look good, folks. I mean, it doesn’t look good to the rest of the world, and it won’t look good to the anthropologists who dig us up hundreds of years from now. They’ll wonder, “What were these people thinking?”

In closing, I just want to say that we spent a good deal of time in this great state in making this film. Unfortunately, it was for all the wrong reasons. It was following the plight of people who couldn’t pay their hospital bills at a Kaiser-owned hospital and dumped on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles in their hospital gown to wander out into the street, not knowing where they’re at. It was following Blue Cross of California and how they, after someone had an expensive operation, tried to get them knocked off the rolls. They hire private investigators to dig up anything they can in people’s past to get them knocked off or to repay the bill for the operation. You’ll see in one scene, the most ridiculous scene in the movie, where a woman who had Blue Cross of California, she had an operation. It ran around $7,000 for the procedure. Blue Cross paid it, but then they sent out their investigators. “Find out what you can on her. We don’t want to pay this $7,000. You know, we want—try and get the money back, if you can.” And they found out that years earlier, this woman had had a yeast infection. And they—yes. And they then demanded the $7,000 back. I’m surprised they didn’t find that she had sneezed 10 years ago into a Kleenex somewhere. I mean, they’re laughing, but this is a true story. This is what they do.

And you’re going to hear other testimony here from people, two from the Los Angeles area and one from Kentucky. And I’ll let Dawnelle tell her story of what happened. And when you hear these stories, these aren’t anecdotal stories. These are stories that are representative of the evidence that exists. And the evidence says that we lose 18,000 Americans every year simply because they don’t have a health insurance card. And how many thousands we lose because people are—even when they have insurance, can’t afford the co-pays, can’t afford the deductibles. You’ll see at the beginning of the movie a couple. One woman is an editor of a small-town paper, her husband is a machinist. They work good jobs. They’re middle-class people. And they end up in their fifties living in their daughter’s basement because they’ve been bankrupted by medical bills—and they had health insurance. They had health insurance. The co-pays and the deductibles alone bankrupted them, and the premium, jacking the premium up so high that they could no longer afford to keep their own home. That should not be happening in the United States of America. It’s a crime. And I believe that these insurance companies are a criminal racket. We allow them to exist legally, but I don’t think they should, and I think they’ve got to be removed from this process.

And I sincerely hope that California will take the lead, as you have done so often in the past when the rest of the country has to be brought along kicking and screaming. You know, it was you that decided that people shouldn’t be paid $5.15 an hour as a minimum wage. That was this state. It was this state that said we have to protect our environment and demand that the automakers put devices on cars that cut down on pollution and global warming. That was this state. And you’ve done so many other things like this. Lead the way again for this country. Be a shining beacon of light for what America has to do: Remove profit, remove the insurance companies from this, regulate the pharmaceutical companies like a public utility, strictly regulate them and guarantee health coverage for all Americans and all the people in the state. Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Oscar award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore. His film Sicko comes out at the end of the month. He was addressing the California State Legislature. When we come back from break, you’ll hear some of the victims and healthcare workers describe their stories. Stay with us.

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“Sicko” Interviewees Tell Harrowing First-Hand Stories of U.S. Healthcare Failures

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