‘Sicko’ isn’t only proof that U.S. needs better health care

[19 July 2007]

By Ramon Castellblanch


Michael Moore’s film “Sicko” shows us that there’s a better way to pay for our health care than relying on the private insurance industry.

In the documentary, we see that in countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and France, governments take care of most health-care costs and people get better and more affordable medical care. As a consequence, people in those countries are healthier and don’t have to worry about medical bills.

But one doesn’t have to believe Moore’s movie. One can just look it up.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development—a group that includes the United States, Canada, England and France—publishes the “OECD in Figures,” a report that allows us to easily check out what Moore says.

In its online booklet, it shows that the bottom line of a health-care system—how long people live—is better in the other three OECD countries than in the United States. People can expect to live an average of 80.3 years in France, 79.9 in Canada and 78.5 in the United Kingdom. They can only expect to make it to 77.5years here.

We can also see that in infant mortality, which is a basic indicator of the quality of a health-care system, we do much worse than the other countries. We have 6.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, while Canada’s rate is 5.3 and the rates of the United Kingdom and France are each lower than that of Canada’s.

To see how the U.S., Canadian and English health-care systems perform from a patient’s perspective, we can search the Web site of the Commonwealth Fund and check what Harvard/Harris surveys say. They show that the U.S. health-care system rated dead last when compared to five other countries in patients’ reports on care experiences.

For this kind of health care, you’d think that we’d pay less.

You’d be wrong.

France spends the equivalent of 10.3 percent of all the goods and services it produces on health care, and the United Kingdom and Canada spend lower amounts, in terms of their gross domestic product, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. But in the United States, we spend the equivalent of a staggering 15.3 percent of our GDP on health care.

So, maybe what the Canadians, English and French pay in health care taxes is a lot higher than what we pay in the United States, right?


French taxpayers pay an amount equal to 8 percent of their GDP for the health-care system that is rated highest in the world by the World Health Organization.

But in the other three countries—the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom—we all pay health care taxes at the same rate. We each pay taxes equal to 7 percent of our GDPs for health care.

Yet, while the 7 percent gets Canada and U.K. residents government-paid health insurance for all, it gets us only government-paid health care for older or poorer Americans—also known as our Medicare and Medicaid programs.

For U.S. workers, it leaves us with soaring out-of-pocket medical costs and nearly 47 million Americans with no insurance at all.

So, Moore’s right: The stories that claim we have the best health-care system in the world are fantasies. Those stories are being told by groups profiting from our current mess—the U.S. health-care industry and its ideological supporters. As a result, the industry continues to loot our system.

The key to affordable and decent health care is government programs like single-payer. When we learn that lesson, we’ll finally start on the way to higher quality health care available to all.


Ramon Castellblanch is associate professor in the Department of Health Education at San Francisco State University. The writer wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/sicko-isnt-only-proof-that-us-needs-better-health-care/