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Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Michael Moore, "Sicko," health care in Cuba, and ignorance in America

What is it with American TV personalities that they're not only abysmally ignorant about the quality of health care in Cuba, but are so eager to parade their ignorance in front of the public? This weekend I watched Richard Roeper (of "Ebert & Roeper at the Movies") with guest host (Roger Ebert still being off the air) Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune reviewing Michael Moore's new film, "Sicko" (you can watch the review, at least for a while, here). At the end of the review, there was this exchange:
Roeper: "And yes, we know that when he goes into the Cuban hospital well of course they're going to show how great they are for Michael Moore and his cameras."

Phillips: "Yeah, I don't buy that part about Cuba either."
Last night, Jay Leno interviewed Moore, and after making the same suggestion (that the Cubans just "put it on" for Moore), asks, "Is the health care really good in Cuba?" Moore sets him (and Roeper and Phillips) straight, recounting a story which makes it clear that the 9-11 workers got exactly the same treatment as normal Cubans (he also recounts the story of the "healthcare Olympics" that he staged, in which NBC refused to allow him to say on the air that Cuba had won).

Here's the video:

By the way, I think I've told this story before, but in any case: many years ago now, during the brief period of the Carter Administration when it was legal to go to Cuba, I was there and got sick. I was immediately treated by a doctor in the hotel, then taken by ambulance to a hospital for more extended examination (nothing serious, as it turned out). All free, no questions asked. Some years later, on my second legal trip to Cuba, I was riding a bike which slipped on some sand on the road and I skinned my elbow. Not only did the hotel doctor (or possibly nurse, I'm not sure what her status was) treat me at no charge, but she even refused my offer of payment to cover the cost of the dressing.

There is one small grain of truth in some of the criticisms of "Sicko" that I've heard, although it isn't really a criticism. While I, as a tourist visiting Cuba, was indeed treated for free, that doesn't mean that you can simply go to Cuba for an operation and expect to get it for free. "Health tourism" is in fact a major business in Cuba, whether paid for by private individuals (like Diego Maradona) going to Cuba for treatment, or by governments on behalf of their own citizens, like the 650,000+ Venezuelans and people from other Latin American and Caribbean countries who have had their sight restored (cataract operations, mostly) in the last few years by Cuban doctors.

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