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Michael Moore refocuses healthcare debate

His latest film, 'Sicko,' may boost efforts for a national healthcare system, an idea that still faces stiff resistance in Washington.

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Filmmaker Michael Moore is making headlines again. His new documentary, "Sicko," promotes a national healthcare program like Canada's. The film, due to open in theaters June 29, got a big boost when the US Treasury Department sent Mr. Moore a letter acknowledging a probe into his trip to Cuba to obtain medical treatment for three 9/11 rescue workers – and film a segment for his movie.

An "appalling" form of harassment, declared Moore, saying his work as a journalist is protected by the United States Constitution.

Advocates of a single-payer national healthcare system welcome Moore's movie. With millions of viewers likely to see the film, it's "unquestionably" helpful, says a spokesman for Physicians for a National Health Program. PNHP, with a membership of 14,000 physicians, has been campaigning for a national system for 20 years. But the prospects of success for PNHP are not great yet, figures Henry Aaron, an economist at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

One reason is the power of various medical industry lobbies. Americans spend as much on healthcare today as the entire gross domestic product of France and Spain combined, notes one economist. If health-related costs continue to rise rapidly, spending could soon equal the entire GDP (that is, the output of goods and services) of Germany.

The $2.1 trillion the US spends per year on healthcare creates "strong interest groups," notes Mr. Aaron. These include a host of politically powerful private health insurance companies and for-profit hospitals.

But a cofounder of PNHP, Steffie Woolhandler, a Harvard Medical School associate professor, is more hopeful for radical reform – though not under the Bush administration. That's because she sees a slow-motion collapse of the present employer-based health insurance system.

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