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JEFF SAWTELL is shown the rotten state of affairs in US health care by maverick film-maker Michael Moore in his latest offering Sicko.
IN 1996, while in Detroit, I had occasion to visit a hospital accident and emergency department. After a check-up, they presented me with a bill that, in sterling, translated to precisely Â£987.56.
I'll never forget it, since I had paid for insurance before I left, but there were some problems when I got back as the insurers had mislaid the data. Thankfully, it was sorted.
That said, despite blood tests, they never ascertained that I had hepatitis C. They simply said that my potassium levels were low and suggested that I take a supplement or eat bananas.
Imagine if I'd needed some thing a little more serious. It doesn't bear thinking about, especially when you consider the plight of the poor people in Michael Moore's new film Sicko.
As I've written before, Moore doesn't do documentaries. He makes partisan political films, usually employing a voice-over analysis before ambling onto the screen to act as an agent provocateur.
Thus, it entails him posing as an innocent abroad, asking a lot of dopey questions. This might not go down well with some of our critics, but it sure as hell works in his own country.
So, to Sicko. Simply, Moore analyses the state of his nation's health and asks: "What is wrong with us?" The reason? US health care ranks last among the developed capitalist nations.
The film is staged in three acts. First, Moore looks at the situation at home before contrasting it with the free systems in Canada, Britain and France and then travels to Cuba to see a socialist system
Naturally, the US authorities have been annoyed and have accused him of collaborating with the enemy. Well, he does arrange for victims of September 11 to get free medical care.
It opens with an old recording of Ronald Reagan on behalf of the American Medical Association equating "socialised medicine" with communism and therefore "anti-American."
He also includes some tapes from "Tricky Dicky" Nixon on the same subject before interviewing an array of folk who blow the gaffe on the insurance companies, stressing they need to be "eliminated."
However, the surprise package is Hillary Clinton. Acknowledging that she tried to expand Medicare, he points out that, after she shelved the plans, it was revealed that she'd received monies from an insurance company.
Moore says that he isn't addressing the 50 million who haven't got insurance or the 18,000 people who die without coverage. His audience is the many millions who think that they are covered, only to discover that they're not.
Those like the man who, having cut two fingers off with a circular saw, was told that it would cost $60,000 for his central finger and $12,000 for his ring finger. Being a romantic, he chose the cheaper option.
The weight of Moore's evidence is damning, marshalling an array of people in the profession who state openly that the single driving force in their health system is the profit motive.
When he travels a couple of miles to Canada, he discovers that even a member of the Conservative Party supports the idea of a socialised health service as normal.
His satire knows no bounds, especially when he travels to Britain and France to meet patients and health workers, including US citizens, who treasure our national health services.
There's a great scene of him wandering round Hammersmith hospital looking for the cashier, only to find one who is reimbursing patients for their travel expenses.
Obviously exaggerated for effect, it should remind us all that, whatever our problems, we have to avoid the path of privatisation that is being advocated by the pariahs of new Labour.
Returning home to discover that many "heroes" of September 11 are not receiving promised health care, he organises a trip to Guantanamo Bay to demand access to its "state-of-the-art" hospital.
Obviously, they're ignored and have to return to Havana to get a first-class treatment courtesy of the Cuban health service, the self-same system that's been helping victims of imperialism worldwide.
Moore simply asks why is it that a country that accepts the idea of "socialised" schools, libraries, post offices and emergency services, doesn't recognise the need for free health care.
Why indeed? Because, if the supporters of sick-note Bush - drunk in charge of a pretzel and a presidency - get the idea of co-operating for a better future, they just might dare to make connections.
As I learnt that day in the Detroit hospital, using the word "socialism" is almost considered sacrilegious. No wonder Michael Moore has to send himself up while presenting his arguments as satire.
After all, they shoot critics, don't they?