Michael Moore delivers a shot in the arm for Public Assets
When Michael Moore set out to make SiCKO, his acclaimed 2007 documentary about the health care industry, he thought he’d focus on some of America’s 50 million uninsured. He put out a call for stories—and received 25,000 emails. He and his staff read them all.
What shocked him was not just the quantity of emails, but how many of them came from people who had insurance—and told horror stories about their experiences. So he shifted the film’s focus to tell the stories of people who were hurt by their insurers.
That was one of the anecdotes Moore delivered to a packed house at Plays and Players Theater, at Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia on Saturday, June 30, at a benefit supporting health care reform. One of the beneficiaries: the Public Assets Institute, for its work to keep the facts front and center in Vermont’s health care finance reform debate.
Sharing the stage with Moore were many of the people who appeared in SiCKO, together for a five-year reunion. In spite of the sweltering heat—the air conditioning was on the fritz—the crowd hung in for the two-hour event.
I was also there, along with insurance industry executive-turned-whistleblower Wendell Potter. Potter has been spending time in Vermont lately to help advance the state’s reform.
Saturday was the first time Potter and Moore met since the then-exec spied on the film’s production, aiming to discredit Moore and the film.
Shortly thereafter, Potter, a former journalist, had a crisis of conscience. And after years in the health insurance industry—first at Humana and then at Cigna, where he was national vice-president for public relations—he quit in 2008.
Potter confirmed what Moore concluded in SiCKO: that insurance companies, focused on profits, regularly deny payment for life-saving procedures their policyholders need, even as company executives enjoy lavish perks, such as eating off gold-plated china and taking trips on corporate jets. The result: People die or declare bankruptcy—exactly what they bought insurance to avoid.
Moore and Potter will be lunching in New York next week to continue their conversation.
As speakers noted throughout the evening, eyes across the nation are on Vermont, as it moves toward enacting groundbreaking health care reforms. On Thursday last week Governor Peter Shumlin repeated his commitment to make Vermont the first state in the nation where health care is a right and not a privilege. In response to an audience question, Potter suggested people support Vermont’s effort by signing on at VermontCanLeadtheWay.org.
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