MOVIE REVIEW- Moore subtle: 'Sicko' offers prescription for change

I might not endorse Michael Moore for President– though considering the kind of person he'd probably be running against, I probably would– but I've endorsed all his "documentaries" as an entertaining, if unabashedly one-sided way of presenting information to the American public– and any foreigners who happen to be watching.

Sicko is no exception, although it's the work of a kinder, gentler Moore who has gotten the message that he himself has been the most controversial aspect of his earlier films. His face doesn't appear on screen for the first 45 minutes, and nearly another hour passes before the controversial stunt that earned Sicko most of its advance publicity.

Sicko reminds us that while the United States of America may be the greatest country in the world, it's not perfect. It may even lag behind other countries in some areas. One of those areas is healthcare, where we rank 37th, "just ahead of Slovenia"– at least according to somebody's poll.

Less concerned with outrageous humor this time, Moore plays sob sister, letting people tell their "healthcare horror stories." (He says a call for these on the Internet drew 25,000 responses the first week.) Aside from the nearly 50 million Americans who have no health insurance, there are the couple who lost their home to deductions and co-payments, the janitor who's still working at 79 to remain covered for his and his wife's prescription drugs, and others who lost children and spouses because their HMOs denied them the care they needed.

Former HMO workers turn whistle-blower, describing quota systems and incentives for denying claims. Another department turns down applicants from the get-go because they have pre-existing conditions or look like they may get sick down the road.

Politicians from Richard Nixon to Hillary Clinton are shown as sympathetic to the profit motives of HMOs and drug companies, in the latter case at least because of how their lobbyists enriched her personally. Ronald Reagan upheld the American Medical Association's line that socialized medicine would lead to our becoming a socialist country.

The Medicare Prescription Drug Bill is said to have been "paid for" by the drug companies, who didn't want their "obscene profits" interfered with.

Just when things couldn't look any darker, Moore shows us the bright side: happy, healthy people who get all the healthcare and prescription drugs they need, regardless of their age, income, pre-existing conditions or other factors. Unfortunately these people live in Canada, England, and France. In the first two countries, healthcare is free; in France those who can afford to, pay more so others can pay less.

It's suggested, half-seriously, that Americans should marry Canadians for the healthcare, with a website ( referenced in the closing credits.

Even part of the "axis of evil" outdoes us in healthcare. As you've no doubt heard, Moore took a boatload of sick people to Cuba, including three 9/11 volunteer rescue workers who were denied access to care here for their resulting respiratory disorders. After a show of trying to get into Guantanamo Bay to get the same treatment accused terrorists receive in prison, they go to Cuba itself and sample the excellent healthcare provided to ordinary citizens, including paying five cents for drugs that cost $120 in the U.S.

Moore isn't trying to be incendiary here. He doesn't even mention how much healthcare could have been bought with the money we've spent invading Iraq. But he doesn't have to. It's unlikely that his subtler approach (less is Moore) will win anyone to his side who has considered him the antichrist since Fahrenheit 9/11. That movie didn't keep George W. Bush from being reelected, but this one may cause ordinary citizens to put some pressure on their elected officials to change things.

Oh, the conservatives will blame the high cost of healthcare on illegal immigrants and ask why they're coming here when they could have better care back home (good question to be answered in Sicko 2); but those who are sharing in the profits from the HMOs and drug companies had better hope they never get sick, and those who aren't had better have their wills ready.