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Escape Fire Director: How to Save Healthcare

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Yes, Matthew Heineman knows that the cost of healthcare and access to it are major issues in the approaching election.

But no, he doesn't think that kind of political focus on the issue is helpful. When a presidential candidate says that people without health insurance can simply go to an emergency room, Heineman observes, he's focusing on the wrong part of the equation.

Which is why Heineman and partner Susan Froemke made Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare, a documentary that examines the raging healthcare controversy from a viewpoint that's meant to take argument out of the equation.

"This film doesn't take sides," Heineman says. "It does say how it is. But we're trying to make it agnostic, politically. It's great to preach to the choir -- but we wanted to create a conversation for all the stakes-holders."

Heineman and Froemke look at some obvious causes for the high cost of getting sick, including the for-profit industry that profits from disease -- insurance corporations, pharmaceutical companies, hospital corporations. "The U.S. spends twice as much as any other country in the world on healthcare -- but we're 50th in lifespan," Heineman says. "That's not sustainable. It's not right. The status quo is powerful. It doesn't want to change. The fact that a river of money is flowing into very few pockets is a given."

That status quo also includes the populace at large. One issue the film deals with is individual culpability -- and the fact that 75 percent of healthcare costs go to treating diseases that are largely preventable. That's the price of smoking, overeating and otherwise participating in behavior that is known to cause health problems.

It's a deadly one-two punch: the unwillingness of individuals to assume responsibility for their own health, and a system built to generate profit from that behavior. Which is why insurance is set up to pay to treat disease -- such as amputating a foot because of diabetes -- but not to pay for preventive care to keep patients from developing diabetes in the first place.

"As a people, we want more, next, better," Heineman says. "We want the quick fix and we want someone else to do it for us."

The film opens in limited theatrical release on Friday, October 5th, the same day it will be available on-demand and on iTunes. Heineman hopes the topic -- and a more holistic approach to dealing with the health problems -- will resonate with audiences who are also thinking about the ballot box.

"My job is to generate discussion," Heineman says. "I want to move people to think and ponder the question of their own healthcare. And it doesn't need to be political thinking."

The film's title refers to a technique used by firefighters battling wildfires. When seemingly trapped by approaching flames, they set fire to the brush around them. It burns a clearing that halts the fire in its tracks.

"That's why we used the 'escape fire' metaphor -- because our system is burning," Heineman says. "There are simple solutions in front of us. Why can't we pay attention to them?"

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