Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"My First Michael Moore Post" or "CNN Needs Double the Proctologists Now that He Tore Them Another One"

Michael Moore appeared on CNN to answer Wolf Blitzer and Sanjay Gupta's Reality Check on his new movie SiCKO and corporate criticism of it. He turned it around in the live interview (and later on-line) to give them a whopping dose of reality himself.

HT to R. Neal, who in an earlier post shared his family's harrowing treatment at the hands of a health insurance corporation who publicly claims to be trying to reduce the number of uninsured.

If you read this and feel thankful that you are insured, just keep in mind that you are probably just an interoffice memo or a balance sheet away from being among the throng of uninsured in America. Hence, advocating for the uninsured and the underinsured is essentially protecting yourself, too:
The [health insurance] system is broken, and they know it. Now they're just scrambling to keep their jobs.

That second point about "working together to reduce the number of uninsured" is a cruel joke. This same company refused to write me an individual policy at any price at any deductible. They would, however, write my company a policy that covers me. That's because there's no state law in Tennessee that requires them to write individual policies, but they are required to offer employer group plans. I'm not sure what I would have done if I wasn't self employed with the means to pay the company premiums.

Prior to that, we had an individual policy that got canceled when the company decided to get out of the health insurance business and sold the policy group to another company. The new company said everyone would have to reapply but gave assurances of continued coverage. They canceled our policy and denied our new application without any explanation.

At the time that policy was canceled, we had paid approx. $100,000 in premiums over eighteen years or so, with a net present value of approx. $250,000 based on the S&P 500 rate of return during that period. The policy had a $10,000 deductible (I thought it was $5,000, but the Mrs. corrected me). They never paid out a single penny because we never filed a claim, and still haven't to this day.

We would have been better off opting out of the system and stashing the money in a mutual fund for a rainy medical day. But that's what you get for trying to be responsible and for playing a game with the deck stacked in favor of big corporations.


  1. I'm glad that there is greater public discussion of the flaws in the U.S. health care system. What bothers me is that Moore and everyone else seems not to carry the argument beyond "we should get better care" and "health insurance companies are greedy". Greed produced my clothes, my house, and the computer I'm using right now. Simply saying insurance companies are greedy is not a complete argument. Where is the explanation of "moral hazard" and "adverse selection"? Where is the discussion of the tax-exempt status of health care benefits, which creates this perverse employer-provided system? Why is the current system denounced as a market-based system, when it is actually a mishmash of government programs, private insurance, regulation, for-profit and not-for-profit hospitals?

    Even if it were an unregulated market, there are options other than single-payer or nationalization. There are policies that can guarantee care while encouraging competition to control costs and promote innovation. No one seems to be willing to discuss them, possibly because these ideas are complicated.

  2. Hmm, I'm having a lot of trouble getting the video to play all the way through. So far I've only been able to view up to 7:00. I presume it gets much better? So far Moore has only cited one figure, and spent the rest of his time berating CNN for bias and failure to apologize to him.

    If I were Moore, I would have carefully noted Gupta's arguments on a sheet of paper, and then refuted them carefully. Instead he spends the little time available grandstanding. Can someone tell me what happens after 7:00? Does it get better?

  3. Catharsis at the mainstream media when you get your chance is not always a bad thing, especially when the media acts empirical and rational as it slowly twists facts into the bias on behalf of those who pay their bills. He refutes Gupta on-line at the link I provide. He also maintains that Wolf Blitzer owes America an apology (a la the NY Times) for ignoring the truths and failing to ask tough questions about WMD and the motivations for going to Iraq for 3 years.

    You sound like Gordon Gecko on greed. Vice wasn't the only thing that produced that which you have. If that is the case, then we are truly not reemable in any shape or fashion. I don't subscribe to reductionistic arguments (let alone dystopian ones) that call vice "virtue."

  4. I'm just thinking about sticking any of the "seven deadlies" into MH's consequentialist (perhaps utilitarian) judgment that the goods he enjoys now were produced by greed (thus, making an indictment of greed "incomplete" [on consequentialist terms]). Couldn't we say the same of wrath or gluttony?

    Or let's move away from the "seven deadlies" to a social problem like chattel slavery. I cannot help but wonder if the same logic would maintain that any judgments that the enslavement of some human beings in order to benefit other human beings is categorically wrong are incomplete until we evaluate all of the good things the first group brings the second. If so, that seems to be treading on some thin moral ice.

  5. Here's a more thorough discussion of why greed isn't bad or good in my latest blog entry.

    Just to make the argument clear: Greed is not a sufficient condition for an undesirable outcome. Greed is not even incompatible with desirable outcomes. In the right institutional arrangement, greed is a necessary condition for desirable results. So why denounce greed, rather than the institutional environment?

    It's great that Moore has an online refutation of Gupta, but few people are going to read it. They will watch Moore rant on TV, when he could have used the opportunity to thoroughly debunk Gupta. Insults and grandstanding are not a substitute for an argument.

    I will indeed state that making categorical statements like "Greed is always bad" are overly simplistic (libertarians run into the same problem when they invoke simple principles such as "non-initiation of force"). It is almost always possible to construct an example in which any hard-and-fast, black-and-white moral rule does not hold.

    In the particular case of greed, there is an entire field of study--economics--devoted to what goes right and what goes wrong when people are self-interested, and the circumstances under which things will go right or wrong. Simply saying "greed is wrong" tells us nothing, suggests no solution, and gets us nowhere. Economics might be able to tell us something about the true nature of the problem--why does this market work poorly, whereas others work well? But that would require a careful and thoughtful discussion that would probably bore most people, so no one--not CNN, not Michael Moore--has the discussion. Instead we get grandstanding and entertainment.

  6. You know, if someone thrust a gun 'gainst Michael Moore's head and threatened to shoot unless he could explain the difference between a marginal tax rate and a tub of margarine ... MM would be a dead man.

  7. "Fat jokes" don't add much to the debate, either.

  8. Greed is not even incompatible with desirable outcomes.

    ... which is jargon for, "The ends justifies the means."

    I will indeed state that making categorical statements like "Greed is always bad" are overly simplistic (libertarians run into the same problem when they invoke simple principles such as "non-initiation of force"). It is almost always possible to construct an example in which any hard-and-fast, black-and-white moral rule does not hold.

    Notice how you have to make categorical statements to disqualify categorical statements. You are at a categorical aporia, because you require universals (like "almost always") yourself to justify your ends-means logic in (almost) every situation or under (almost) any circumstance or condition. That is by definition categorical.

    Let's just admit, shall we, that all of us who claim something about human interaction rely on categoricals. The only question is, which categorical are we going to use?

  9. Michael Moore’s letter to CNN prompted me to do the same:

    Dear CNN:

    Dr Guptas’ report of Sicko was useless and I listened with an open mind. He said nothing useful except that Michael Moore rounded up a number to 7,000. Way to go doctor! You found a mistake! I am offended that he suggested Michael Moore was unfairly leading the American public to believe things that are untrue and feeding us falsehoods. I am not a person naive and stupid enough to believe whatever is fed to me. I research as much as possible.

    Michael Moore represents so many Americans and he can speak for me anytime. A doctor (who practices in America) to argue government run health care? How stupid do you think Americans are? Highly overpaid doctors should not represent most of America, as you are far from the majority. I am 40, a divorced mother of one, and I have no health care. However, I don’t want it. I will choose, instead, to wait for free government health care and hope that it will soon be the standard here in America.

    We Americans have paid for far too many fat salaries, coverage we cannot use, and overpriced prescriptions which all contribute to the wealthy getting wealthier, while the working class American must lose a loved one so that insurance execs can purchase another yacht, get another costly divorce, or reserve the hottest new sports car to feed their shallow souls.

    I will be starting a letter-writing campaign to request that CNN offer the truth about our health care system in this country. Please include the government officials who enjoy the perks thrown to them by those all-too-important lobbys in Washington.

    Why DON’T you try to pick Moore’s movie apart, piece by bloody piece? Don’t skim over it briefly with no information like your doctor did. Really try to prove him wrong! Why won’t you? And for heaven’s sake, get a conscience and apologize to a man who, like Al Gore, is just trying to raise awareness for a very important issue.

    Why can’t we ever seem to expose the fat, greedy, wealthy people scooping up all the pennies in this country? Does money really matter that much to that many selfish people that you’d rather all Americans remain clueless and quiet? Don’t complicate things, simplify. What is the worst that could happen? You’d lose an advertiser or two? Maybe you’d even get a call from Bush! Don’t worry, he’s the dumbest American of all and I am quite sure HE is willing to accept any hot air you blow in his direction.

    Sharon Jenson

    Now, here are some facts I was able to dig up:

    Fortune 500s Most Profitable Companies of 2007 include drug companies, insurance companies, and oil companies.

    Drug companies block generic forms of their pricey meds, costing the sick tem times more than they should have to pay to be well.

    In Brazil, they offer generic drugs to HIV/AIDS patiens; costing $300/year per patient. In America we spend $10 to $12,000 per patient per year.

    Bush appointed a former CEO of a drug company, Ely Lily, as head of our Global AIDS Initiative.

    And, Adolf Hitler once said, “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think”.

    Thankfully, in the last month the stocks of the health care companies are going down, they are in reverse. Could it be “Sicko”?

    And please, don’t anyone else comment back to me that Michael Moore is trying to push socialized medicine. His motives are completely of a good nature. He has good intentions; he tries to raise awareness. And don’t comment on the fact that this issue was already an issue & didn’t need pointing out — NOT TRUE! I for one have learned a lot and not just from the movie. I’ve done my own research & I suggest every American do the same!

    Thank you for reading this.

  10. I don't know if this long after the inital post if anyone will see this but....

    If we went to a single-payer, universal healthcare system, how do you all think it would effect Nashville?