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‘Sicko’ Socks It to ‘Em, Gadfly Michael Moore Has Thing or Two to Say About Health Care Woes

Editor’s Notebook , Thomas York

Political progressive Michael Moore takes on the health care industry in his latest real-life tragedy-comedy, “Sicko,” playing at a cineplex near you.

I caught his latest effort last weekend, an all-out criticism of how poorly the United States delivers care compared with other countries in the West, especially Canada, Cuba, England and France.

Even if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, the film is worth a look-see, and some points (though theatrically made) are worth pondering.

Give the opposition its due, I always say, and Moore is nothing if not entertaining.


Common Knowledge

It’s generally agreed that 50 million Americans are going without health insurance.

Moore makes the point that the other 250 million or so Americans don’t have the coverage they think they have. The insurers spend a lot of time devising ways to deny treatment, even when treatment might mean the difference between living or dying.

While “Sicko” draws ’em in to movie houses, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pushes ahead with his own plan to provide universal health care coverage in the Golden State.

Schwarzenegger’s proposal would be financed by a payroll tax on businesses that don’t spend a certain level of their revenues on worker health care.

The proposed tax increase could cost the state’s businesses $6.5 billion, a huge tax increase, of course, without being called a tax.

However, his plan does nothing to address the fact that health care is already stressed, and his plan does little to reduce the stressors.

In fact, his plan would assess hospitals and doctors a fee from their top-line revenue, which would plunge many hospitals into the red. Hospitals are having trouble finding cash to meet new seismic code standards, as well as treat the unceasing flood of the under-insured elderly, working poor and undocumented immigrants.

We could possibly deploy some form of universal coverage, but business, especially small and medium-sized concerns, shouldn’t have to carry the burden of providing universal coverage under Schwarzenegger’s New World Order.

Meanwhile, it will take a crisis of herculean proportions to wrest control of the debate from the lobbyists, and put it to the voters.

If you believe Michael Moore, such a crisis is already upon us.

– – –

By the time this issue hits your mailbox, we all may be shopping at Henry’s Marketplace, Trader Joe’s, 7-Eleven, or any other independent store here in San Diego County.

Several weeks ago, union leaders representing the region’s 60,000-plus grocery workers said close to 95 percent of the membership had voted authority to stage a strike against Vons and Ralphs, if necessary. (Workers had already authorized a strike against Albertsons some weeks ago when negotiations bogged down.)

And why would they be striking? Essentially, the union wants to end concessions they made three years ago, which basically allowed the stores to create a two-tier system for workers.

Unfortunately, the leaders have given themselves but one option, which isn’t much of an option.

A strike will be suicidal for the industry. Whether workers win, or lose, a strike is a negative.

If the union wins the battle, so to speak, they weaken their economic position going forward because they’ll put the stores in a less competitive position.

That will mean fewer jobs for store clerks and a weakening of the chains, opening the door to such “dreaded” competitors as those nonunion, grocery-packed Wal-Mart mega-stores.

– – –

I see where the San Diego Association of Governments, the regional planning group known as Sandag, wants to increase car-pool lanes throughout the county. The agency wants to bump the length of lanes to 143 miles from the current 13 miles by 2030.

Sandag says 83 miles of those 143 miles will consist of toll routes to allow single-car motorists to bypass congestion simply by paying for the privilege. Fair enough.

Yet, the single-car issue is a vexing one for many of us.

In Los Angeles and Orange counties, there is a bit of a controversy revolving around hybrids, which allow solo drivers to drive the lanes. The controversy could spill over into San Diego County.

Average speeds on car-pool lanes at the commute hour have been slowing, even below optimum speeds set by federal authorities.

So, regulators are thinking of capping the number of hybrids that can drive the lanes at rush hour.

Environmentally desirable or not, hybrids with single-car drivers should not be allowed in car-pool lanes.

Doing so defeats the purpose of getting motorists out of their cars and into car pools.

Proponents argue that hybrids pollute far less than regular autos, a point that can be debated when looking at the big picture.

True enough, they may use less gasoline, but there’s a problem at the end of the seven-year life cycle of the batteries. Where do you dump them?

Thousands of motorists would love to see more car-pool lanes, but they don’t want to see a concurrent increase in hybrids taking up precious asphalt and concrete.


Thomas York is editor of the San Diego Business Journal.

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