First, let me state that I already know what you are thinking. You are thinking – hey, Alicia…that movie came out here months ago! Hello? Get with it.
This is true, and this is exactly why I am writing.
Living in the Czech Republic for the past year has really shown me how “American-centric” we all are there in the land of the “free” and the home of the “brave”. The only time we ever really think of other countries is when we are thinking about a vacation or when the news spews something about a bomb we have dropped in a place that most of us could not find on a map. We are pretty quick to judge other countries based on what we HEAR on the news or see in the movies. We are a country of lemmings.
Before I get into the film, let me explain why I am writing this. I am an American citizen. Before I moved to Prague about a year ago, I was uninsured. I was a waitress and therefore uninsurable. I remained uninsured for about one year. Before that I was insured through an HMO offered by my employer. I paid forty bucks a month for insurance that I never used. When it came time for me to use it (dental check up) it would be an additional $150 dollars. (See my blog entry titled What Time is it Anyway) Not to mention any prescriptions that I might need. That would be extra. So yes, I paid for health insurance. I paid up the ass for it for years. And I see now that I was “lucky” – lucky to be one of the elite and deserving people in America that the government classifies as worthy of insurance; meaning that I was not a risk of costing them money.
I am an American citizen. I live in the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic was a communist country until 1993. It is cheaper for me to see a doctor here as an UNINSURED NON CITIZEN than it is for me to see a doctor as an insured citizen in my own country. And when insured here…it’s all FREE. As soon as you receive your health insurance card here you are eligible for free visits to the doctor. Unlike some countries where you yourself must pay, and later be reimbursed by the state, everything really is free. Doctors’ fees and lab work are free, and prescriptions are mostly covered, though there may be a very small fee for the patient to contribute.
What is wrong with this picture?
Seeing the film Sicko while living in Prague gave me a very unique perspective on the idea of universal health care. The perspective is this: Everyone…EV-ERY ONE here is able to see a doctor when they need to. Period. If you are sick, all you have to do is know your name. How awesome is that? No HMO, no PPO, no wondering how much it will cost to stay in the hospital. Amazing. I asked my students how they feel about paying into a system that doesn’t help them directly, a system that you pay into like a pool. You know what they told me? They told me that it is a “typical American attitude” to care only about yourself and not the community to which you belong. Ummm…ouch. They said they feel it is their duty to take care of each other because that’s what people do. That’s what Czech people do.
When the movie ended I was sad. I mean there was much in the film to be sad about from insurance companies not giving coverage to people who need it to hospitals being caught dumping patients who are unable to pay at free clinics. It’s just gross. But that really wasn’t the part that got to me. I was most disturbed by our country’s lack of vision and total fear. Did you know that our illustrious former President Nixon actually sat down with Edward Kaiser and talked with him about HMO’s and that Nixon KNEW that it was a total for profit scheme? Ididn’t. And that’s not just Michael Moore saying it. It is Nixon. Thank god that man was a paranoid freak and recorded everything he said while in office.
* On February 17, 1971, Richard Nixon met with John Ehrlichman to discuss the Vice President’s position on health maintenance organizations, as heard in the film. The Miller Center of Public Affairs has this audio recording (conversation number 450-23. “Richard Nixon – Oval Office Recordings,”
* The next day, Nixon called for a “new national health strategy” that had four points for expanding the proliferation of health maintenance organizations, or HMOs. “Special Message to the Congress Proposing a National Health Strategy,” February 18th, 1971, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=3311
* The term “health maintenance organization” was coined by Nixon advisor Paul Ellwood. Patricia Bauman, “The Formulation and Evolution of the Health Maintenance Organization Policy, 1970-1973, Social Science & Medicine, vol. 10. 1976. After Congress passed Nixon’s HMO Act in 1973, HMOs in America increased nine-fold in just ten years. N. R. Kleinfield, “The King of the HMO Mountain,” New York Times, July 31, 1983.
And the worst part is that we bought it hook line and sinker. We were fed a line of goods that said, “Hey Americans! Universal Health Care is for Commies. You don’t want to pay for that do you? You don’t want to be paying for someone else getting sick do you? You don’t want to be responcible for some homeless person who needs healthcare. Why don’t they get a job and then talk about getting sick.”
Fuck that my fellow Americans. Fuck that. In this time of election, when we have the chance once again to try and make better choices – lets look to other countries not as enemies, but rather as a template for how to make somethings better. Thats what could make us a people that other countries don’t make fun of.
That’s all. Stay healthy my friends. Stay healthy.