Wednesday, July 11, 2007
My conversation with Michael Moore
Last night on Larry King, I had a chance to sit and discuss health care with a man I admire. It is true. Michael Moore has been able to get people talking about health care policy in a way that I haven't seen in a long time. It is important, because we both agree on the need to fix the health care system. It is shameful and heartbreaking that so many people don't have access to what most consider a basic human right. An uninsured person in this country is forced to make impossible decisions every day, such as choosing between food and medications. They live with the constant fear of getting sick or injured and then suddenly finding themselves in financial ruin. Even for the insured, the system seems broken and antiquated. Most everyone who reads this, whether you are a doctor or a patient, agrees that the time has come for a change.
Michael Moore and I agree on these points. In fact, after the segment ended on Larry King last night, we chatted for a couple of moments off the air. It was friendly and he seemed appreciative that we had a chance to discuss some of these issues. He reminded me that we are both from Michigan, although he favors the Spartans and I am a die hard Wolverine fan. He also reminded me that he has been working on Sicko for a long time and wanted to be recognized for his efforts. And, I do recognize that. Sincerely.
I also think, though, that it is important to get the facts absolutely right and to be transparent about the sources of those facts. Michael knows that I took issue with the "cherry picking" of some numbers to try and bolster his argument. He cited an unsourced BBC report when talking about per capita Cuban spending. That same report also talked about US per capita health spending, but he apparently didn't like that number, so instead he used a projected number from a different study. I worry that comparing apples and oranges purposely, and perhaps needlessly, muddy the argument. To be clear, I got a number wrong in my original report, substituting the number 25, instead of 251. It was not deliberate, but an error of transcription. I felt awful it happened. I did correct it and apologize.
I also worry that Michael, who is an accomplished film maker, tried to leave people with the impression that health care is free in many other nations and there is a state of utopia. True, Michael did talk about increased taxes in his film, but he also kept calling it "free," which made it nebulous. No question, there are many valuable things to learn from other health care systems, but we should know all things before wholeheartedly endorsing one system over another. We should know that taxes will be much higher, as is the case in France where they are crippled by their health care system. We should also know that a significant number of people in these countries still buy supplemental insurance, apparently unhappy with what the government alone can provide. We should also remember that Medicare, an example of a limited national health care plan in the United States, is expected to go bankrupt by the year 2020. If there is a new national health care plan, we want it to be around for a very long time and to provide the sort of health care that we deserve. Personally, I believe that adopting a much more prevalent prevention model is an important first step. Keeping people from getting sick in the first place may cost more in the short run, but it is medically and morally the right thing to do.
Judging by the response over the past few days, people are very passionate about these health care issues. I think I can safely speak for Michael, when I say, that is the best news of all. I was a bit baffled, though, that Michael took such issue with my reporting in Iraq. I reported on a group of Navy doctors who worked hard to address the consequences of those booms and explosions we watched on television. They risked their lives everyday to save and improve the lives of others. I think about them everyday. I wish Michael would've watched some of that reporting before being so critical.
Although Michael accused me of it, I have never shilled for a corporate sponsor and I never will. What I will do is try and present solid reporting on the complexities of a health care system in disrepair, no matter who it makes uncomfortable - be they powerful vested interests or filmmakers.
On a final note, Michael has told people at CNN that he regularly receives nasty email and even death threats. As I have been thrust into this world over the past couple of days, I understand what he is talking about. If you want to contribute to the discussion, please try and keep your comments constructive.
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