SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Michael Moore, the filmmaker and provocateur, rode into the Capitol Tuesday, delivering impassioned - and sharply barbed - pleas for guaranteed health care.
He was embraced by throngs who hailed him a hero and who bestowed on him the kind of hoopla usually given a rock star.
It was an opportunity for Moore to promote “Sicko,” his latest film to take a jab at a powerful American institution. This time: the health-care industry.
“There is no room for the concept of profits when taking care of people when they are sick,” Moore told a crowd of nearly a thousand nurses who swarmed the west steps of the Capitol.
Moore, the owner of an Oscar for the anti-gun “Bowling for Columbine,” and the box office documentary record for the Bush-blasting “Fahrenheit 9/11,” decided the first American screening of his new film should be in Sacramento after he received an invitation from the California Nurses Association to show it here.
“There’s a reason a lot of things happen here first,” he said of California in an interview with The Sacramento Bee. “Environmental issues, minimum wage, immigration issues. Because it’s such a microcosm of the country, it seems to deal with issues first.”
Though it takes shots at President Bush and some other Republicans, “Sicko” is more folksy and less polemical than “Fahrenheit 9/11.”
“It’s not a Democrat or Republican film,” Moore said. “When you get sick, the sickness doesn’t care if you are a Democrat or a Republican.”
As in the film, which is scheduled for wide release June 29, Moore railed Tuesday against a health-care industry that he said denies coverage to millions of Americans.
He called for nothing short of the elimination of for-profit insurance companies.
“What kind of sick, cruel system is this?” Moore asked his audience.
The crowd responded with: “Sicko.”
Representatives of the medical industry took issue with Moore’s characterization.
“Companies have to have an incentive. Otherwise, who’s going to do it? ... The government’s not going to do it,” said Ken Johnson, senior vice president for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents the country’s leading drug companies.
“Michael Moore is a political activist with a track record for sensationalism. He has no intention of being fair and balanced,” he said.
Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group representing the nation’s health maintenance organizations, was more measured in her response.
“Any effort to shine a spotlight” on the country’s health-care ills “is important,” she said. But she said the cure would have to involve a partnership between private and public entities
“A utopian promise of a public takeover is not what the country wants,” she predicted.
But the California Nurses Association, which sponsored the rally and one of two screenings of Moore’s film at the Crest Theatre, is betting that public furor will swell against the health-care industry as the issue takes a prominent role in the presidential race.
“The insurance companies are the problem,” said Rose Ann DeMoro, the executive director of CNA, during a briefing with Moore that was hosted by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica. She’s the leading sponsor of Senate Bill 840, which seeks to provide every Californian with universal health care and appears to have Moore’s support.
Kuehl hailed Moore for his efforts to bring attention to a health-care dilemma faced by thousands of Californians, some of whom have no health insurance and others who may be insured but are sometimes denied medical care.
The hearing was broadcast on large-screen TVs in tents pitched outside the west steps of the Capitol.
Kuehl’s bill would create a single-payer plan run by the state and eliminate insurance companies.
Throughout the day, Moore and Democratic lawmakers cross-promoted their agenda - Moore publicized his film while politicians stumped for their health-care expansion bills.
During a morning news conference in the Capitol, where he was introduced by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, Moore was asked if he was being used by the California Nurses Association, which sponsored his visit.
“I thought it was the other way around,” he quipped. “Each of us are doing this together in the hopes of sparking (and) igniting a movement across California and this country, where the people of America are covered once and for all and where profit, no longer, is the deciding factor.”
Nunez’s proposal would cover only 2.6 million of the estimated 6.5 million uninsured Californians. The speaker said he favors universal health care but believes it may be unfeasible for the current political climate.
“We’re all hopeful that our work will be made a lot easier by the increased public awareness and the public outrage that Michael Moore and the film `Sicko’ will be spurring in the coming weeks and months,” said Nunez, who hosted the second showing of the documentary Tuesday evening.
“Basically, I’m pushing for three simple things,” Moore said. “No. 1: health care for everyone in America, guaranteed, and not denied to a single person who resides in this great country.
“No. 2: Remove the profit-making insurance companies from the equation. They no longer should be able to call the shots.
“No 3: I want the pharmaceutical companies strictly regulated. I want them regulated like a public utility.”