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Beard The Lion

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“Sicko,” Michael Moore’s new film, has hardly hit the movie theatres as of this writing, but already it is causing a lot of stomach-churning within the health insurance business.

I just got back from the annual convention of the National Association of Health Underwriters, where, as it happens, Michael Moore was a large presence, both spoken and unspoken. You might say he was the 800-pound gorilla in the room, but that would not be accurate since Moore is heavy, but not that heavy.

In any case, Moore and his new movie got a blasting from David L. Fear, NAHU’s outgoing president. He was also on the mind of Janet Trautwein, NAHU’s executive vice president and CEO.

The “Michael Moores of the world are 180 degrees opposed to our solutions,” Fear said.

OK, that’s probably true. But it’s what Fear said next that really bothered me. He said he had no intention of seeing “Sicko.” He did warn his listeners that millions of Americans probably would see it and hear its message in favor of a government-run system.

What’s my problem? It’s Fear’s admission that he’s not going to see the film. How on earth can you go into battle with something when you refuse to acknowledge your enemy?

There was also an unconscious irony here since Fear also said that “we live in a society that thrives on sound bites” and that the industry had to be able to counter Moore’s arguments in “Sicko.” If Fear isn’t going to see the movie, what is he responding to but sound bites about it?

When Trautwein spoke on the first day of the convention, it just so happened that Michael Moore was in Denver. She wasn’t certain that such serendipity was coincidence. “The last time I looked, I didn’t see Denver on his schedule,” she said.

She, too, said the message of Moore’s film was a problem that needed addressing. “If we’re not careful, we could be the frog boiling in the pot,” she said.

Actually, I think a grand opportunity was missed here. What if Moore did show up in Denver because NAHU was meeting there? My feeling is the association should have invited him to speak to its members.

If Moore was brave enough to actually go into the lion’s den, so to speak, then the members could have been brave enough to listen to him. (He might have gotten booed, but he’s a big guy and I’m sure he’d be able to take it.) The industry should have enough guts to beard the lion.

The truth of the matter, however, is that Moore is not the problem. He is a voice for a very real unease spreading throughout the country and his film will resonate for that reason. It is time for the industry to stop mouthing platitudes about how the health care system in this country is the best in the world. This is not the rallying cry that is going to win the battle, folks. Why? Because nobody really disputes that.

But the fact is that too many people are left out of the system or priced out of the system. And for all the talk (read blather) that has been spun in the last few years about access and affordability, no solution has yet come about that has reduced the ranks of the uninsured (indeed, they have increased) or brought down prices increases to reasonable levels (sorry, but double-digit rate hikes annually are not an acceptable solution).

When you get sick, you of course want your doctor to relieve your symptoms, but you’re going to be pretty unhappy if he leaves the cause untreated. Moore’s film is a symptom, not the cause, of a system that is not functioning optimally.