Doc Review #3: “Sicko”

Sicko Poster


Runtime: 123 minutes

Currently on Netflix: No

Currently on Indieflix: No

IMDb page:


Well folks, I finally did something I thought I never would: I watched a Michael Moore documentary. Known to be as left as one can get, the trailers for his films turned me off because of the blatantly obvious, almost annoyingly liberal agenda spewing from them, but for you fine people reading my documentary reviews I thought I’d bite the bullet and try one out.

Now I’m not an ultra-conservative who is going to bash Michael Moore or his films, in fact if you put a gun to my head I’d probably have to say I’m almost right smack dab in the middle of our bipartisan political spectrum. So with that in mind, my verdict of Michael Moore’s 2007 film “Sicko” is…

…Eh, it wasn’t as bad as I thought.

Despite my reservations towards Moore and his films, I can tell you that I came out of the experience still pretty much half-Liberal, half-Conservative. That doesn’t mean, however, that I didn’t learn anything valuable from this film, which mostly explores the lives of patients who have been slighted by the American healthcare system, as well as physicians and patients in foreign countries who brag about their socialized or universal healthcare systems.

Sicko patients laughing
Two new parents in Britain laugh when Moore asks them how much the hospital charged them for their baby.

Here are just three disheartening facts I learned from the film:

– HMO’s (Health Maintenance Organizations) were created in 1973 to arrange health care and be a liaison for healthcare providers– which sounds fine and dandy if it weren’t that they were truly started to provide LESS care to patients to make more profit, as this transcript of a recorded conversation between Nixon and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs John Ehrlichman (yes, the same John Ehrlichman involved in Watergate) shows.

– At the time of the film, insurance companies hired people to go through applications and find ANY way to deny a claim. This could have included the Prudent Person Preexisting Condition, meaning that the company can deny you if you experienced symptoms that, when put together in whatever magical order they can come up with, a health-conscious person would seek medical attention for. You had excessive hair growth and skin changes in your pubescent years? You probably had cancer, meaning no health insurance for you. With this in mind, it’s a wonder to me how anyone before Obamacare even GOT health insurance (to my understanding, Obamacare has significantly improved the situation for people with pre-existing conditions).

– One cochlear implant may be accepted by insurance companies, yet one in both ears is not because it is considered “experimental.”

(That last one caught me by surprise– is it “experimental” to hear out of both ears? To insurers it is, supposedly because there is not enough benefit of hearing out of two ears to justify the added cost. Something two ears is important for is sound localization, which comes in handy when, say, crossing a street. Hearing out of one ear is like seeing out of one eye– sure, you can see things, but you lose essential aspects like depth perception.)

I also learned to look at the release date of the films I watch. Just as I was wondering why every country doesn’t adopt universal healthcare, I noticed Sicko came out in 2007, just before the economic crisis of 2008 and bankruptcy of most of Europe. Many countries in Europe, including Britain, Spain, France, and Greece, had a universal or pseudo-universal healthcare system. The Europeans interviewed in the film bragged about being reimbursed for ambulance rides, free government employees who do laundry or cook for new mothers, and short hospital wait times. But could these impressive benefits have been their downfall?

Actually, it’s not very clear if universal healthcare was a major reason for the financial crisis; the burst European housing bubble may have been a key factor. And though many European countries, especially Spain, moved away from a universal system after the financial crisis, this is likely due to requirements to decrease social and healthcare spending in countries seeking a bailout by the “troika”—the European Central Bank, the European Union, and the IMF, who organized loans to several European countries.

Sicko Condescending Wonka
I almost fell victim to this as I watched the film.

This is starting to sound like a bad high school book report, so I’ll get back to the film, which raised a few questions for a future physician like myself. For example, with all the corruption in the insurance industry does increasing the number or insured patients through Obamacare help the patients, system, or insurers? And will getting more people insured correlate to more people being treated, or will insurance loopholes just take us right back where we started?

The future frightens and intrigues me.

I’ll end this review by saying that the things I’ve heard about Michael Moore- especially the over-the-top effort he puts into conveying his message (such as taking a group of American patients to Guantanamo Bay in a speedboat in an attempt to get them access to its quality healthcare)– were revealed in this documentary. He very matter-of-factly laid out the problems with our healthcare system, and did so without even mentioning Walter Reed’s Building 18 or bashing on Dubya (too much). Whether or not you agree with him, Moore is an obviously talented and influential filmmaker.


Cinematography: 7/10 Nothing too groundbreaking or special film-wise.

Soundtrack: 10/10 The soundtrack very effectively elicited certain emotions. It was clear that Moore had an agenda, and he used the music in the film to make sure those emotions and thoughts came into the viewer’s head.

Editing: 7/10 I knew going into it that the movie was an exploratory piece that involved many shots of home interviews and traveling, meaning shaky footage and thus difficult editing. However, the flow of the movie was very clear and understandable.

Impact: 7/10 The impact would be higher if the financial crisis in Europe didn’t happen soon after the film was released. Had I watched it in 2007, I would give it an 8.5/10, and if I had wanted to pursue a medical career at that time I would give it a 10/10.

Overall: 8/10 This film makes universal healthcare out to be a system sent to us by the gods–whether or not that’s true is up for debate. It was nice to imagine for just a second working as a physician in a system where I wouldn’t have to deal with insurance companies or worry about the patient’s ability to pay for treatment, one where people seem to care more about giving good care than making a profit.


Still think this film is a waste of two hours? Check out this more elaborate, eloquent and professional review written by in the Cannes Journal the day of the movie premiere.


Have you seen Sicko or any of Michael Moore’s other films? If you want to let us know what you think of this review or know of a film we should check out email us at or hit us up on Twitter or Facebook.


-Scott Hines

Scott Hines is a Director for Blood, Sweat and Berries.

The Hole in Healthcare Coverage: States’ Rejection of Medicaid Expansion

Almost a year ago, I was working as a research intern at the National Institute of Health. It was during my lunch break when my friend and coworker peered over her smartphone to announce to the table that the Supreme Court had upheld the Affordable Care Act. Many of us had followed the debates and controversy surrounding the Affordable Care Act since President Obama signed it into law in 2010. And for the rest of the day, the excitement in the building was palpable as news of the ruling spread.

Ideally, the Affordable Care Act was indeed something to be excited about. It eliminates many gaps in healthcare, particularly amongst the uninsured. Notable changes to insurance coverage includes young adults’ eligibility to join their parents health plans, an end to exclusion of children and adults with pre-existing conditions, and a prohibition of lifetime or annual limits on benefits.

However, the Supreme Court ruling also struck down the law’s mandated expansion of Medicaid, a loophole that some states are now exploiting. With Wisconsin as the latest state legislature to reject the proposed Medicaid expansion, many of the country’s citizens with the lowest incomes would be among those left uninsured.

A handy illustration of how the hole created by rejection of Medicaid expansion would lie directly under the poorest.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker cited “fiscal uncertainty coming out of Washington, D.C.” among the reasons for his opposition to the Medicaid expansion, but Democrats view the act as another ploy in the GOP’s continued resistance of “Obamacare.” You can check where your state currently stands using this interactive map.

Regardless of the reasons, states like Texas, Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri, along with their rejection of Medicaid expansion limit the effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act. Their resistance also burdens those who are the poorest. And such effects illustrate a dire failure in our basic responsibility to care for those most in need.


Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

Revolving Door Admissions and the Future of Healthcare

Treating symptoms without addressing the root causes seems to be an affliction of modern society. Here, take another aspirin if you still have a headache. But why do we have a headache in the first place? Not enough caffeine in my case probably, but that’s not necessarily a universal issue.

One area where this avoidance of the real issue really stands out is healthcare for the homeless. Or indeed in America, healthcare for any uninsured. It’s been referred to as “revolving door admissions.” Patients coming into the hospital, often the ER if they’re unable to afford primary care, having their symptoms treated, and then being discharged, only to return to the same dire situation they were in before. With nothing resolved, eventually they end up right back in the hospital.


What is needed is a support network to actually address their problems. If poor health is a result of homelessness and malnutrition, then those are the issues that should be addressed. There should be a way to transfer the bill footed by the public for emergency room visits by the uninsured, and instead transfer it to preventative care, keeping people out of the hospital in the first place.

In the United Kingdom, the government is giving £10 million, about $15 million, to charities that work with the homeless after their discharge from the hospital. The idea being to address their health and housing needs outside of the hospital, and so break them from the cycle of endless re-admission for the same maladies. In a way it’s empowerment: giving a person the means to take care of themselves, rather than simply patching them up and shuffling them along.

It will be interesting to see how much can be accomplished with the funding. But it is at least a positive to see the foresight, and to see organizations focused on solving the root causes of homelessness, rather than just temporarily alleviating the strain.


David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Spotlight: Health Leads

By now, most of us have come to expect visits to the doctor to follow the same standard set of steps: you check in, sit in the waiting room, flip through People Magazine (or maybe The Economist if even sick-you is a smartypants), see the doctor for a diagnosis, take your medication prescriptions to a pharmacy, and voila, you’re on your way to getting better!

Growing up in a suburb of Connecticut, my experiences with the doctor’s office were pretty formulaic. The concept seemed simple: I was sick. I needed the doctor to give me medication, and then I would be well again. And for me, this really was, more or less, always the case. However, for millions of people in the United States, getting healthy and staying healthy is not so straightforward.

We tend to think of health as pure biology: cells, tissues, organs. Then, improving health must be a scientific endeavor. But this is a myopic view that doesn’t consider other root causes of illness. For many urban, low-income populations, bodily symptoms may only be at the surface of deeper issues. Patients who consistently have poor health often struggle with food, unsafe housing conditions, and limited or no access to a primary care physician.

Health Leads, formerly known as Project Health, seeks to address these issues by taking a more holistic approach to healthcare. In hospitals that have incorporated Health Leads, doctors may prescribe more than just your average penicillin. Healthcare providers also screen patients for basic needs, such as food or shelter, and fill a prescription, just as they would for medication. Health Leads volunteers then take over to help connect these patients to resources that can address both immediate needs and implement long-term solutions.


Already established in cities like New York, Baltimore, and Chicago, Health Leads and its impact may extend beyond the clinic. The organization has generated national attention, including a shout-out from Michelle Obama to founder Rebecca Onie, as it advocates a novel approach to healthcare delivery. Health Leads seeks to combat the challenges low-income patients face outside the walls of the doctor’s office. As Onie puts it in her recent TEDMED talk: “If we know what it takes to have a healthcare system rather than a sick-care system, why don’t we just do it?”



Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.