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Updated 11:00 AM July 16, 2007




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Public Health faculty: ‘Sicko’ doesn’t have all the answers

Michael Moore's new movie “Sicko” stresses that we can't ignore the health needs of the disadvantaged in our country, but it doesn't take into consideration all the other factors that cause poor health, said School of Public Health professor Paula Lantz.

Members of the University community gathered June 27 to preview and discuss Michael Moore's new film “Sicko.” (Photo by Lin Jones, U-M Photo Services)

“It’s more than medical care that leads to good health, it’s a lot of social policies that contribute to that as well,” said Lantz, who is chair of the Department of Health Management and Policy. The SPH hosted an advance screening of Moore’s movie June 27, followed by a faculty discussion with local media about the issues raised in the film.

“One thing we can’t do is ignore the health needs of our disadvantaged,” said John Griffith, Andrew Pattullo Professor of Hospital Administration and professor of health management and policy. But Griffith challenged the film for advocating free universal care.

“There is no free lunch,” he said. “The film ducks too many hard issues.” Lantz responded to vignettes in the film of individuals denied coverage and company officials who admitted they seek to limit coverage.

“I think what he did capture well were the values and priorities we have as a society,” she said. “He’s right about that, we have a broken system. Do we value having health care for everyone?”

Although thought provoking, faculty members who watched the screening agreed that many issues surrounding the U.S. health system were not addressed in the film. “The problem with trying to deal with a complex issue such as health care is he uses anecdotes, we deal with data,” said Leon Wyszewianski, associate professor of health management and policy. “It’s really a matter of how the system in the U.S. is broken. Health insurers are concerned with the bottom line, but they have to be—they’re businesses.

“The system works well for millions of people (in the U.S.); that’s why it exists,” Wyszewianski continued. “It was left out of the movie that this is the land of medical miracles; for many people the system does well by them.”

Richard Lichtenstein, associate professor of health management and policy, said there is a widening gap between the haves and have-nots, and no single fix.

“Health disparities between the rich and poor are extremely (wide) in the United States,” he said. Universal health care wouldn’t eliminate the disparity even over time, but it would help, Lichtenstein said.

Lichtenstein said the impending increase in costs to handle the health care needs of aging baby boomers would burden any health care system, including a universal health care model. “It (the film) raises a question of values as to what kind of system to consider,” said Peter Jacobson, professor of health law and policy.

Dean Smith, senior associate dean for administration at SPH, said while the film advocates a state-led system, the current U.S. health system is similarly run: “The rules that govern it are from the government,” Smith noted.

The screening happened after SPH faculty initially planned to organize a group outing to see the movie on its June 29 release day. Instead, a call to the distributor set in motion the advance screening at U-M.

Filmmaker Moore hails from Flint, Mich., and U-M has the only school of public health in the state of Michigan, so the screening for staff, students and faculty was a natural fit, said Terri Mellow, director of communications for the school.

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