The Author of “Sick” Looks at “Sicko”

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Over at the New Republic, “Sick” author Jonathan Cohn takes a look at Michael Moore’s similarly titled new movie on the same subject, and finds it wrong on a lot of little things, but right on the big one. By the way, Cohn’s own book, which is a lively read that provides both a history of and an indictment of the U.S. health care system, is the best thing I have read during my own medical leave (which ends Monday).

Well, that and “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.”

UPDATE: Commenter James, Los Angeles asks for an example. Here’s one from Cohn’s review:

Moore wants to weave these tales into an indictment of the idea that for-profit companies can be counted upon to provide Americans with affordable medical care. But that’s a complicated argument to make. Even an intellectually rigorous filmmaker would have to cut a few corners; Moore cuts many.

Sometimes, for example, there are good reasons to deny coverage of experimental treatments. In the 1990s, HMOs caught a lot of grief for denying bone-marrow transplants to breast cancer victims. Years later, studies showed the treatments–which are both expensive and painful–worked in only a tiny fraction of special cases. Would the bone-marrow transplant denied to Pierce have made a difference? It seems unlikely. Experts told me that the treatment never made it past the experimental phase because of ineffectiveness and harmful side-effects.

But, while not every HMO treatment denial bears second-guessing, many do: During the ’90s, peer-reviewed studies showed that insurance companies were cutting costs in ways that routinely jeopardized patient care. Nor is there any doubt that insurers try desperately to avoid covering people with serious medical conditions: Following exposés by Lisa Girion in the Los Angeles Times, California officials investigated BlueCross for precisely the kind of practices Lee Einer describes, eventually fining the insurer $1 million because it was rescinding coverage without even asking policy-holders about supposed misrepresentations. Although Wellpoint, the parent company of Blue Cross, denied wrongdoing, it also promised to change its cancellation procedures.