United States

Healthcare for Profit is Sicko

By Bonnie Weinstein

Few stories exposed the sickness of medical care under capitalism than a story entitled, “Psychiatrists Top List in Drug Maker Gifts,” by Gardner Harris, which appeared in the June 27, 2007 issue of the New York Times. This could have been part of the script of Michael Moore’s new documentary film, “Sicko.”

This article points out that not only do most doctors accept payments from drug companies for prescribing medications, but, “...a pattern has emerged: Psychiatrists earn more money from drug makers than doctors in any other specialty.” And further, “...the more psychiatrists have earned from drug makers, the more they have prescribed a new class of powerful medicines known as atypical antipsychotics to children, for whom the drugs are especially risky and mostly unapproved,” proving that in the U.S., the Hippocratic Oath has been abandoned and the almighty dollar rules.

Michael Moore’s “Sicko” goes a long way toward exposing the fact that the U.S. healthcare system or lack thereof, is failing the nation’s sick because it is profit driven.

In case after case, and with powerful emotion, Moore follows patients battling the healthcare system—such as the experience of a man who accidentally severed two of his fingertips but couldn’t afford to pay for the re-attachment of both, so he had to choose which one to re-attach. Moore’s “Sicko” even showcases individuals who died because they couldn’t pay for their healthcare needs that had been denied them by their insurance companies.

His movie contrasts healthcare systems in Canada, England, France and Cuba. In one scene, Moore’s cameras followed a man who, while visiting Canada, had an accident that basically cut his hand in half. The man was taken to the hospital by ambulance, where a team of doctors had already been lined up for the 24-hour surgery that would be necessary to re-attach the hand. Each surgeon would work for a few hours and be relieved by the next doctor in line and so on. The operation was successful and the man went home and was not charged a dime.

Moore even goes as far as saying that the profit should be taken out of healthcare—and that’s a very good thing.

What Moore puts in and what he leaves out

While Moore did a good job showing the high quality of the Cuban healthcare system with its easy access to doctors and to medical procedures and most medicines free of charge or, in the case of some medicines, a prescription that would cost over one hundred dollars here, only costs a nickel in Cuba—there are a few big flaws in “Sicko.”

The most striking was the claim that those tortured and held illegally in Guantanamo Bay are getting good medical care! This doesn’t make sense in the face of the suicides and attempted suicides, the force-feedings of hunger strikers by shoving tubes down their throats, and tethering the men in cages.

It was not good enough for Moore to show American officials sadistically claiming that these prisoners had the best medical care. We know that whatever medical care they get is designed to keep them alive so they can be tortured again! Bush is proud of it and defends it. The congress has voted to fund it. This part of the film did a disservice to the truth and Moore certainly knows better.

And while giving glowing reports about the healthcare systems of Canada, England, France, Moore fails to mention that—across the board—these governments are cutting back on, and trying to undermine and privatize their own healthcare systems.

He does point out that Cuba, though not a profit driven system, somehow is able to provide free healthcare. In fact, even under the hardship of the U.S. trade embargo, it’s supplying not only free and comprehensive healthcare, including dentistry, medicines and eye care for all Cubans, but it is developing innovative cancer and other treatments and medical techniques; supplying free healthcare in countries around the world; and even training students free of charge to become doctors—even students from the inner cities of the U.S. who can’t afford to go to medical school otherwise. Healthcare is considered a basic human right in Cuba. And while their hospitals are not built of marble and glass with fine brass plaques, the priority they place on human life over profit comes through clearly in “Sicko.”

Money for war a key issue

Moore also fails to point out what U.S. public tax-payer funds do pay for instead of things like healthcare: two big wars—Iraq and Afghanistan; 700-plus bases around the world; Israel’s military; Colombia’s military—the entire huge U.S. war industry—including its nuclear weapons!

Even England, France and Canada—while they are also imperialist oppressor countries—don’t spend a fraction of what the U.S. spends on its worldwide military industrial complex. Certainly the U.S. is the top-ranking military force in the world today. And American workers and workers around the world under American corporate control and under American bombs and in front of American tanks are paying for it.

Our children are paying for it now in decreased wages and a shorter life span! And they are paying for it with their lives in an unjust and brutal war that is trading their blood for oil to increase profits for the few.

Money for police and jails not healthcare

Connected to this is the U.S. prison industrial complex—another profit driven industry. The U.S. has the highest percentage of its population in jail than any other country in the world—most for drug related charges—and at great expense to taxpayers. In fact, according to a May 21, 2007 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, entitled, “Prisons’ budget to trump colleges,” by James Sterngold,

“As the costs for fixing the state’s troubled corrections system rocket higher, California is headed for a dubious milestone—for the first time the state will spend more on incarcerating inmates than on educating students in its public universities.

“Based on current spending trends, California’s prison budget will overtake spending on the state’s universities in five years. No other big state in the country spends close to as much on its prisons compared with universities.”

So instead of spending money on education, jobs, housing and, especially, comprehensive drug treatment and rehabilitation programs—including education—they pour it instead into war, police occupation of the community, arrest, incarceration and economic induction into military service of the victims of poverty and racism.

Instead of solving drug problems, capitalism promotes them

In addition to the introduction of crack cocaine into our inner cities by the CIA, as exposed by reporter Gary Webb. many of those incarcerated are in trouble because they became addicted to one of the drugs that their doctors were paid to push on them, like the drug, OxyContin.

As a concrete example, according to a May 10, 2007 New York Times article entitled, “In Guilty Plea, OxyContin Maker to Pay $600 Million,” by Barry Meier, “The company that makes the narcotic painkiller OxyContin and three current and former executives pleaded guilty today in federal court here to criminal charges that they misled regulators, doctors and patients about the drug’s risk of addiction and its potential to be abused.”

Neither the makers of OxyContin nor the doctors, who over-prescribed it, will ever have to spend even a second in jail. And, in spite of the billions of dollars in profits the drug companies and their drug-pushing doctors have already earned due to increased sales to those they have addicted—their only punishment is that they must pay $600 million in fines—money that will never get to the victims of those incarcerated because of those drugs; or who have died from them; or to their families who have been so deeply impacted in a myriad of ways.

Money for human needs not war

While the mega-drug companies, HMOs and insurance companies rake in billions of dollars in profits off the sale of questionable drugs, by denying healthcare treatments to sick people, and by turning doctors into drug-pushers—the sick and the poor get the worst of all worlds.

They get bad drugs; get denied services; and they and their children are incarcerated even for the use of marijuana—a drug that has killed no one—while the conscious pushers of a deadly drug like OxyContin go free.

And, if that is not bad enough, working people have to pay for the insufficient care they do get—not only with the money taken out of their paycheck—not only with the increasing cost of their co-payments, and not only by the reduction of covered benefits (much of that hidden until they need it)—but sometimes at the cost of their lives.

Socialized medicine is a good thing

One of the strongest points in Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” comes when he points out that, indeed, we have many social welfare programs. Even here in the U.S., in the commanding heights of the capitalist world, we have socialized fire service, schools, police, civil servants of all kinds. The military and space programs are fully funded.

And while many of our most important services for the poor are being cut back, “society” is able to support some of these basic services. The conclusion to be drawn would be to support the funding of medical care instead of war. This point should have been made resoundingly clear in the film. It was not. (Moore has since made the point quite effectively on TV interviews and I give him credit for that.)

In spite of its weaknesses, Moore’s “Sicko” made it reasonable to think that socialized medicine—free, universal medical care for all—should be a part of these basic social services.

The mayhem of the profit motive

It is the height of hypocrisy that doctors-turned-drug pushers, and the drug manufacturers are being rewarded by the corporate profit system, while masses of drug-dependent people—instead of getting the healthcare and drug rehabilitation they need—are incarcerated at great expense to taxpayers and, in fact, denied healthcare altogether in some cases.

This is concrete evidence of the utter failure and total lack of rationality of the American capitalist system of healthcare ruled by the profit motive.

The profit motive permeates all areas of social concern from the lack of healthcare, to crumbling roads and schools, to the inability to rebuild New Orleans, just to name a few of the things the wealthiest nation in the world can’t seem to do.

The hypocrisy of a government spending billions of dollars on war, occupation and annihilation while denying healthcare to a dying child is the legacy of capitalism.

It is the legacy of a dying and rotting system spinning out of control in the hands of a tiny minority of desperados who will risk everything—except of course, themselves and their money—to maintain their world dominance. They will sacrifice any and all—social services and people—as needed—as war costs steadily increase.

At the helm of the greatest war machine on the planet are the corporate rulers who are at war against all working people the world over. And this is expensive. And they have no intention of paying for it themselves. That would defeat the purpose of their wars, which is to increase their profits for their own greedy enjoyment of obscene wealth, privilege and the power to maintain it.

What do we do about it?

Michael Moore’s, “Sicko” will resonate with millions of people. It has already opened up a discussion of possible solutions to the healthcare crisis we are currently facing in this country. Already, reforms are on the drawing boards in State and Federal governing bodies.

The most popular form are reactionary bills like the Massachusetts healthcare bill put forward by Republican Governor Mitt Romney which would require all uninsured adults in the state to purchase some kind of insurance policy or face a fine just like with auto insurance. Under this bill, those without insurance would apply to an insurance board, run by insurance companies, of course (much like how you buy auto insurance) and be offered coverage according to how much you can pay, while they decide exactly what medical services will or will not be covered.

The consumer’s choices would be expanded to include a range of new and inexpensive policies ranging from almost free to about $250 per month—from private insurers subsidized by the state. But this does not do away with private insurers. Instead, it helps them to increase their sales and profits by forcing everyone to purchase a plan from them, or face the penalties.

All the major Democratic and Republican candidates support some form of this bill. They only differ on how poor people will have to be to qualify for a subsidy; and exactly what the minimum coverage of the cheapest medical insurance will be.

None of the candidates supports a single-payer system—let alone free, universal and comprehensive healthcare for all as a basic human right—as it should be.

Single-payer healthcare

In California we have SB 840, the California Health Insurance Reliability Act, which, on the surface, seems pretty good. At least it gradually does away with the insurance companies, turning California healthcare into a “single payer” system. According to the bill summary,

“All federal, state and county monies currently spent on health care will be reallocated to the state Health Care Fund. This will supply about one-third of the needed funding. Federal waivers are required for allocation of federal dollars to the state Health Care Fund. The remaining funding will come from state health taxes that will replace health insurance premiums now paid to insurance companies and co-pays and deductibles now paid to providers. Premiums will be affordable for every Californian and every business because what families pay is in proportion to their income and what employers pay is in proportion to wages. Single-payer efficiencies control costs. Most businesses and families will save money...Imposes a waiting period for new residents, if a large number of people are entering the state for the purpose of obtaining health care; establishes consumer co-payments and/or deductibles, if necessary, only after the first two years, and limited to $250 per person or $500 per family; and establishes standards for waiver of co-payments for those with low income...when cost control measures are insufficient: it may ask the Legislature for an increase in health care taxes.”

Already, on the surface, this is unfair because taxes are not progressive. Employer’s profits far outweigh their labor costs! Workers pay a much higher proportion of their income in taxes than do the wealthy. The bosses designed this system so they can enjoy these huge tax breaks at the expense of working people.

The problem with single-payer healthcare is that eventually it will mean that everyone, indeed, will be forced to pay or not receive care—or perhaps even get fined for getting caught sick without healthcare.

Tax the rich not the poor. Money for human needs not war.

The only way a single-payer plan would be fair to working people is if it is combined with a progressive income tax, where the rich pay more according to a sliding scale (the richer you are the higher percentage of taxes you pay) and the poor pay no taxes at all and healthcare and all social services are provided free to all.

To put teeth into this, working people must be able to democratically decide where our tax money will be spent—whether we should spend billions of dollars on war—or on the things we want and need.

The profit system is making us ‘sicko’

None of these things can be accomplished in a society that puts the unrestricted accumulation of private profit for the rich above the interests of everyone else. Such a society is doomed to be thrust back into the dark ages. And, unfortunately, this is the very circumstance being played out in the world right now. Already Iraq and Afghanistan have been plunged into poverty, destruction and despair by imperialism’s war led by the U.S. bosses—the very same bosses ripping the guts out of all the basic social services here.

The only solution to this downward spiral is for working people here—and in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and all over the world—to unite and take matters into our own hands and depose and disarm the war profiteers and end the inhuman profit driven system of capitalism—with its ever-expanding wars and bigger prisons.

Human decency falters under the rule of capital

Films like “Sicko” serve to awaken the common thread of humanity within all of us, and to that we owe Michael Moore a great debt of gratitude. Sometimes the most obvious things get lost in the quagmire of capitalist media spin that constantly seeks to turn the victim into the criminal.

But the sight of a man who must choose which of his fingertips to save becomes like a blow-to-the-head-wake-up-call when you see the results as he tries to adjust his guitar playing to his new, unimproved circumstance a year or so later. That is the art of Michael Moore’s “Sicko.”

Capitalism and its profit motive don’t work for the overwhelming majority of humans on this planet. And, in fact, it is as a giant boulder tied in a knot around a drowning child. “Sicko” is a close-up look at that giant boulder and the hands that tied the knot.

It is up to us to put an end to this madness and create a society that puts human needs and the needs of the planet above private property and personal gain at the expense of the majority.

This can only be achieved through our unity and solidarity for an end to capitalism and the beginning of a socialist future.