President Barack Obama is signing the main healthcare overhaul bill this morning at a White House ceremony. We speak with Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore. "The healthcare bill that was passed ultimately will be seen as a victory for capitalism," Moore says. "It protected the capitalist model of providing healthcare for people — in other words, we are not to help unless there is money to be made from it." [includes rush transcript]
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: President Barack Obama is planning to sign the main healthcare overhaul bill this morning at a White House ceremony. The legislation is seen as the President’s signature domestic priority and has been described as the broadest piece of social policy legislation since President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are planning to make a last push this week to derail a package of amendments to the healthcare legislation passed by the House. In addition, eleven state attorneys general — all Republican — are also planning lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the bill for mandating people to buy health insurance.
The legislation has also been criticized by advocates for a single-payer system and abortion rights. In order to secure support from anti-choice Democrats, including Bart Stupak of Michigan, President Obama issued an executive order affirming the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds from being spent on abortion.
On Monday, Amy Goodman and I interviewed someone who has taken on the healthcare system in a big way.
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: That’s not on, right?
MICHAEL MOORE: No.
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 thirty-seven 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?
MARY MORNIN: Yes.
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.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Sicko. And today we’re joined by the director of Sicko, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore. His latest film is called Capitalism: A Love Story, and he’s made many others. We spoke to him late yesterday and began by asking Michael for his reaction to the House vote on healthcare reform.
MICHAEL MOORE: I’ve been pretty vocal about this. This bill was never about universal healthcare. It, you know, did a couple of good things that could have been done anytime, I guess, like ending the pre-existing condition rule for children. It doesn’t end it for adults for four years, so you can rack up another, you know, probably 20,000 to 40,000 deaths in the meantime from people who otherwise would have received help had we truly gotten rid of the pre-existing condition thing for all citizens. But six months after the bill is signed by Obama, kids will be able to get coverage from a private, profit-making insurance company.
I mean, I don’t mean to sound cynical, because I understand the importance of this vote. Certainly, had the vote gone down to defeat and the Republicans had won, I would say that it would probably have been near impossible for President Obama to get anything through for the rest of this Congress. So that would not have been a good idea for that kind of paralysis to set in.
The larger picture here is that the private insurance companies are still the ones in charge. They’re still going to call the shots. And if anything, they’ve just been given another big handout by the government by guaranteeing customers. I mean, this is really kind of crazy when you think about it. Imagine Congress passing a law that required every person to buy — I mean, name any product — or watch my next movie. There’s a law that says now that you have to buy a DVD of every Michael Moore film. Woohoo! It’s like, hey, not a bad idea! I mean, I don’t know why — that’s what I’m saying. I don’t know why they’re so upset this week, because this bill is going to line their pockets to an even greater extent.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Michael, on that issue of the mandatory — the mandatory provision, individual mandate, you’re forced to buy this product that many view as defective, that has been shown to be defective for many years. But also, on the issue of abortion, you’re forced to buy a product where it doesn’t cover a legal medical procedure. I mean, that’s a key issue here.
MICHAEL MOORE: Right, and not only that — I mean, I understand why President Obama had to issue his declaration, to get the right-to-life Democrats, led by my own personal congressman here in Michigan, Bart Stupak, why he had to get them on board, but, boy, that’s a sorry sight to see a president, such as Obama, from the Democratic Party, endorsing the Hyde Amendment, which, trust me, history will view as one of a number of discriminatory practices against women in our society.
So they — I mean, this is, of course, another whole issue, that, you know, we’re always so afraid, because we’re just — we always feel like we’re hanging on by a thread. You know, it’s a five-to-four Supreme Court decision right now. One more vote, and that could mean the end of legal abortion in this country. So I think that liberals, people on the left, sometimes are maybe a little bit too afraid of going too far, but frankly, if not us, who? If we don’t stand up against this, if we don’t say this is wrong, if we don’t speak out against it, you know, what’s — then who’s going to do it?
But in the long run, at least 15 million Americans are still not going to have health insurance. And as you said, those who have it are going to be forced to buy a defective product. And trust me on this one thing: the insurance companies, they’re not going to go quietly into the night on this, even though they lost. They’re going to find ways to trick up the system to get around it, to raise premiums.
It’s not going to be as easy as it sounds. “Oh, you’ve got a pre-existing condition. No problem.” Well, not exactly “no problem.” You know, the so-called controls that this bill puts on them are Mickey Mouse. For instance, if they deny you health insurance — let’s say Aetna won’t give you health insurance because you have a pre-existing condition, and you say to them, “Hey, wait a minute. That’s against the law.” And they’re going to go, “Whoa, yeah. Sue me.” Because you know what the fine is, the fine for them for denying somebody because they have a pre-existing condition? One hundred dollars a day. So if you’re Aetna, and you’ve got a patient who maybe needs, you know, a $100,000 operation, what would you do? Would you pay out the $100,000 operation because the law says you have to? Or do you break the law but just get a $100-a-day fine? Because, let’s see, after a year that would be $36,500 versus a $100,000 operation. Gee, I wonder which one Aetna’s going to go for. And of course, they could just hope against hope that within a year the person without the operation might be dead, so they won’t have to be worrying about shelling out any more money to a doctor or to a hospital.
AMY GOODMAN: Academy Award-winning Michael Moore. We’ll come back to our interview in a minute.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We return right now to our interview with the Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael, you wrote a letter, “How the People in My District Got Stupak to Change His Mind — and Thus Saved the Health Care Bill,” this letter from Michael Moore — you, of course. Now, talk about Bart Stupak, ’cause he is your congressman.
MICHAEL MOORE: Bart Stupak is my congressman. I’ve known him for quite some time. I live up in northern Michigan. It’s a fairly rural area — very rural, actually. His district covers thirty-one of Michigan’s eighty-three counties. So that’s quite a hefty portion of real estate here in the state. It’s not that populated, and in the last few elections has tended to vote Republican. They voted for Mr. Bush up here, and they voted for Mr. McCain. But they have elected a Democrat to Congress under the name of Bart Stupak. He’s a moderate to conservative Democrat.
He’s done some good things. He stood up to the NRA here a few years ago, when he voted for a very small amount of gun control, which, up here, voting against gun control is like, you know, one of the worst sins you could commit in the woods of northern Michigan. But he did that. And the NRA ran Republicans against him to try and get him out of there, and the people voted for him. He’s a former Michigan state police officer whose teenage son took a gun, a revolver, in his house, and he was on a lot of medication that Mr. Stupak says he probably shouldn’t have been on, and it was misprescribed, whatever, but sadly, his son killed himself with that gun. And so, Congressman Stupak voted for this gun control legislation, when the NRA went after him.
So, you know, he’s a pretty decent guy. He’s a decent person. He’s not a typical politician. But he has done something that I think, as Americans, we don’t generally like, if I could just paint us all with one brush here. And that is, your private spiritual or religious beliefs, Amy, are yours, as mine are mine, or my lack of beliefs or your lack of beliefs are yours or mine, too, and it’s nobody’s business, and nobody has a right to tell me how to behave because of how they choose to behave. And for some reason, he took it upon himself to try and derail this healthcare bill, because, for some reason, he saw some kind of ghost, some kind of I don’t know what, in the bill that was going to somehow fund abortions, which, of course, it wasn’t going to do, and so he decided with some other right-to-life Democrats to stop the bill.
And those of us who live up here, who — and I speak, I think — and I’m not saying this just because of Democrats or Republicans or independents up here — I think, generally, people in northern Michigan are pretty much, you know, live and let live, and your business is your business, and mine’s mine, and when we have things that affect each other, then we care about that, but what you do in your bedroom or in your house, as long as it’s not harmful to anyone, is not any of our business. And he decided it was his business to become chief of police for fertilized eggs of the United States of America. And so, he set out to stop this. And we decided that we had to stop him.
So myself and dozens of others here organized over the last week or two to get everybody calling his office and emailing him, sending him letters, going to his office, and telling him in no uncertain terms that this August, in the Democratic primary, where the base votes, the liberal base votes, he will be removed from office at that point. We may or may not win in November, but we will remove him in August. And I think, I hope, that that message got through to him, because he changed his mind in the last moment and decided to go along with the bill.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Let me ask you about the White House strategy on this. We saw in the final weeks a lot of pressure coming down on progressives, most noticeably Dennis Kucinich. He was taken on Air Force One with Obama and forced — the next day he switched his vote. Well, not forced, but that’s what he ultimately decided to do. There didn’t seem to be any consideration from the White House, from President Obama, for the public option throughout the months over this debate. They said they supported it, but they have not actually done anything actively to support it. And we didn’t see the same kind of pressure brought to bear on people like Bart Stupak. He eventually did vote for the bill, but after a lot of concessions were made, Obama signing this executive order. Your thoughts on how President Obama led this debate?
MICHAEL MOORE: I don’t think he really cared about a public option. I don’t think he really believes in true universal healthcare that’s managed by we the people. He was the number one recipient of health industry money in the Senate and when he was running for president, so I’m not surprised that he had very little interest in doing any of that.
So, I mean, Obama, right now, he’s our — you know, he’s the guy that isn’t the last eight years of Bush and Cheney. Boy, there’s a rousing endorsement for him. I mean, I’m sorry, I’m just so — I feel so disillusioned. And I sit here on this camera here, and I’m thinking, you know, I’ll try and sound upbeat and positive and optimistic and all this, because people are filled with such despair right now. But I’m sorry, I, too, am filled with that despair.
And I think that he isn’t really going to take on the powers that be. He’s not really going to take on the banks and Wall Street. He cut a deal with the pharmaceutical industry so that they got completely left out. There weren’t even touched by this bill, so they get to go on their merry way of bilking the public out of billions of dollars every year.
So, no, I’m sorry, I just — I just don’t — you know, and I have felt through most of my life, actually, that sometimes it’s worse to have the kinder, gentler version of the same bad thing than the actual bad thing, because at least when it is that bad thing, you can deal with it, because you know what it is. But if you’ve got, as is often the case with Democrats, this mask over it that looks like a nice mask, it looks like — wow, it looks like one of us. He’s, you know, saying the same things we say and feels the same way we feel, you know, and then every now and then does some incredibly good things. I mean, they’re about ready to finally quit lying about where the poverty level is in this country. The Obama administration is going to set that bar where it really should be. You know, little things like that that you hear about every week or two they do, and you think, ah, jeez, that’s a hell of a lot better than Bush and Cheney.
But if you step back from it, here we are now in the first week of the eighth year of the Iraq war, the Afghanistan war, which Obama has decided to make it his war, and a very, very weak banking regulation bill that Chris Dodd has proposed, that I believe yesterday made it through some committee or whatever there. I just — I haven’t read all the news on it today, but it’s not really going to do anything to really put the reins on Wall Street or these banks in the way that it should be.
AMY GOODMAN: How does this tie into your film, Michael, Capitalism: A Love Story, which you’ve just released on DVD?
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, I mean, to me, it all comes back to this issue of an economic system that is truly evil. And the healthcare bill that was passed ultimately will be seen as a victory for capitalism, because it protected the capitalist model of providing healthcare for people. In other words, we’re not to help people unless there’s money to be made from it. That is so patently disgusting and immoral, but that’s the system. That’s where we live.
And that’s why they’re not really going to do anything to the banks. Chris Dodd, the other day, saying — you know, when he proposed his bill, he says, “Well, you know, we don’t really want to punish Wall Street or these banks.” Oh, really? I want to punish them. I know a lot of people that want to punish them. In fact, I thought that was the whole idea of those of you who believe in your criminal justice system, that the way we reduce crime is to make examples out of those who commit crimes. If people know that they’re going to go to jail for a certain period of time, that may act as an incentive not to commit the crime. All we’ve — we’ve done the exact opposite: we’ve rewarded the criminals by giving them more money.
So I think that — you know, I mean, I’ve been making these movies for twenty years now, and I said this to you a few months ago, Amy, at — we were out there in Utah — that‘s right, we were in Utah — and it all comes back to this central issue, that unless we restructure our economic system, where we the people control it and it’s set up to fairly divide the pie, so that nobody goes without, we’re going to continue to see more decisions made that benefit the richest one percent that control more of our financial wealth in this country than the bottom 95 percent combined.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Moore, remember 2004, when you went on bended knee on the Bill Maher show and begged Ralph Nader not to run for president?
MICHAEL MOORE: Ralph, please, Ralph!
BILL MAHER: Don’t run for president.
MICHAEL MOORE: Ralph, please, don’t do this to the country! Don’t do this!
BILL MAHER: Because you’re a great American, don’t run, please. Please!
MICHAEL MOORE: Don’t do this, Ralph!
AMY GOODMAN: Michael, do you still feel the same way? You and Ralph Nader pretty much agree on a lot of things.
MICHAEL MOORE: I have this basic position about Ralph. I’ve known him for many, many years. He has done so much good for this country. People are alive as a result of the things that he worked on over the years. I also believe that he doesn’t really have a handle on what the proper strategy is to get this country in our hands. And, you know, unlike Ralph, I guess maybe I’m not in this for just to say it so I can hear myself talk or to be some — or to take some poser position. And I hope that doesn’t sound too harsh, but I don’t see him ever working with the grassroots or with the people or being in touch with the people in any way, shape or form.
And so, I just — I think that — I mean, what I’ve proposed for the last few years is that if we really want to try and get this power in our hands, in the people’s hands, in the hands of the working people of this country, then we should, on a very grassroots level, from the bottom up, be doing things to — whether it’s running for local office, taking over the local Democratic Party. The game is rigged in America when it comes to third parties. There’s no way that that’s ever going to work. And so, then how — instead of letting the game, I guess, rig us, what can we do to the game itself? And if the game is, well, we have these two political parties which are really very much like one party, why don’t we make sure that one of those parties actually is a second party and start locally and do that? And that’s what I encourage people to do. That’s my approach.
Ralph’s approach is, put his name on the ballot and run for office. Where are we as a result of that? I don’t — you know, I don’t see us anywhere other than in the same pitiful state we’ve been in for some time.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Michael, back on the issue of healthcare, where does the single-payer movement go right now? It’s also known as Medicare for All.
MICHAEL MOORE: I think that Dennis Kucinich and John Conyers, Alan Grayson have to immediately be putting forth the next bill. We should not let anybody rest on any laurel here. There’s nothing to be proud of with this bill being passed, other than maybe a temporary satisfaction of watching Republicans — you know, watching their spray-on tan fall off out of utter — through utter anger. But these bills have to be introduced, and we have to start working on them. All of us have to start getting behind this. And maybe this will turn out to be one of these things where, you know what, people saw that it was a little bit and they wanted it a little more, and so a year or two from now we get a little more.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of President Obama’s strategy of accepting hundreds of amendments by Republicans on the healthcare bill? In the end, not one Republican voted for it. Was it worth it?
MICHAEL MOORE: No, of course not. I mean, but I get this part of him. I do believe that he wanted to get along. I think he saw himself in this moment in history, and he knew that there was a lot of anger toward the fact that he — he — was elected, and he held his hand out. And of course, all they wanted to do was crush that hand.
So I hope the “Kumbaya” is over now, because the Democrats and President Obama need to start behaving like they won. They won, by a huge margin. So, at least until November, can I see a version of what that would look like? You know, just, you know, play with me a little bit here. Just give me — give me something. I don’t think, Amy, that whenever the next bill is, that he will be welcoming their 100 amendments. I don’t think we’re going to see that again. I think he got pretty beaten down by this, hopefully and learned a lesson.
AMY GOODMAN: Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore. By the way, if you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org.