"Who are we?" asks Michael Moore mid-way through his brilliant new film, "SiCKO." "Is this what we've become?"
Moore has issued a ringing challenge to all of us, and tens of thousands are about to answer the bell. When "SiCKO" opens Friday, nurses in red scrubs, doctors and healthcare activists, will be there in theaters from coast to coast, talking to movie audiences about what we can all do together to fix our broken healthcare system.
In this scene where he asks the question, Moore is describing the disgraceful of scandal of hospitals pushing people out of cars onto skid row in downtown Los Angeles because they can't pay their hospital bills.
But he could have been talking about Donna and Larry Smith who were insured but had to sell their home and move into a storage room in their daughter's house because the co-pays and deductibles for their medical bills drove them to bankruptcy. "They worked all their life, and ended up with nothing simply because they had the misfortune to get sick." Moore said of Larry and Donna Smith in a Congressional briefing last week.
Or he could have been talking about Julie Pierce, who works in a hospital intensive care unit whose insurance company and her employer refused to pay for a life saving bone marrow transplant for her husband because they deemed it "experimental."
For America's nurses, Donna and Larry Smith, Julie Pierce, or the other families and patients depicted in such heart-rending fashion in SiCKO are not mere anecdotes or abstractions. They are the life and every day experience of nurses who must continually battle to get patients the appropriate medical care, respect, and dignity all of us deserve.
That's why so many nurses are responding to our call to action. They will be enlisting the millions of Americans who see SiCKO to join our campaign to transform our sick and dysfunctional healthcare system.
We will invite the movie audiences to talk to their neighbors and friends and co-workers, and to urge their representatives to act. You can join us by going to this site.
Even before it opens, SiCKO has already helped ignite a new debate over the course of health care reform in this country - and the promises being made on the campaign trail.
As more and more people stream out of the movie theaters, it will be increasingly difficult for the candidates, or legislators in Washington or state capitols to promote more insurance as the solution to our long health care nightmare.
Americans inherently know that it is the insurance industry itself that is at the core of our national crisis. SiCKO drives that point home with a clarity unmatched in the popular culture and discourse. He uses the camera as a laser, through the horrific patient stories, the depiction of employing their wealth to influence Congress and blunt real reform, and through the insight of industry whistle blowers like Lee Einer, who used to specialize in how to deny claims. "It's not unintentional. It's not a mistake. It's not an oversight. You're not slipping through the cracks. They made the crack and are sweeping you toward it," Einer notes.
And, perhaps most importantly, for Americans who never hear of an alternative in the mainstream media, Moore and SiCKO demonstrate there is another way, in every other Western nation which provides free, universal healthcare without insurance companies standing in the way.
In the U.S. as well, it's not a dream, it's on paper, in Congress, HR 676, and in several states, such as SB 840 in California. Both would provide comprehensive healthcare for all with uniform benefits, freedom of choice of doctors and hospitals, and an end to insurance industry interference with care.
"I don't want to believe the only reason someone loses a loved one is because they hold American citizenship," Moore told Congress. That's the message the nurses in the red scrubs will be conveying this weekend as well.