PARK CITY, Utah: The ailing US healthcare system comes under the microscope in a documentary at the Sundance film festival that tries to diagnose what is wrong — and suggests a cure.
“Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare” presents a picture of a sick, money-driven system, but argues that there is a way to reorient it towards patients while driving down costs.
The documentary, which is reminiscent of activist Michael Moore’s 2007 movie “Sicko,” is in competition at the independent film festival drawing to a close this weekend in the ski resort of Park City, Utah. “Many people feel frustrated by the healthcare that they receive now, but they don’t really understand what is wrong and how it’s broken,” Susan Froemke, co-director with Matthew
Heineman, said. “We have a disease management system, not a healthcare system,” she added, saying the film aims to show the American people “that we have to find a new way to deliver medicine.” The cost of health insurance represents 20 percent of US GDP. Americans spend $300bn a year on medicine — almost as much as the rest of the world combined — but are among the least healthy in the developed world.
“Americans and Europeans took a different direction after World War II,” cardiologist Steven Nissen, who features in the film, said, calling the US system “profit driven, instead of health driven.”
The film argues that the system encourages doctors to see as many patients in as little time as possible, leading to them over- or mis-prescribing drugs, rather than taking the time to properly evaluate patients.
“The goal was really to try to understand how the system’s broken, how there’s an entrenched, powerful group in the private sector that doesn’t want to see things change,” said Heineman.
“But there are people out there who are trying to fix it. So we both want to highlight what’s wrong with the system, and show that people are trying to make it better as well.”
The filmmakers sought out doctors, academics and others who want to develop a better way of treating patients.
They follow an injured and traumatised soldier returning from Afghanistan, who gradually manages to wean himself off of the 32 different drugs he had been prescribed, with the help of acupuncture.
They introduce Dean Ornish, a doctor known for his work on preventing cardiovascular disease by changing lifestyle and diet, in a country where 65 percent of the population is overweight.
The film also hears from the head of the Safeway supermarket chain, which has kept health insurance costs down by offering financial incentives for workers to do more sport or eat more healthily.
But while solutions do exist, Nissen laments that drug companies are more powerful than ever, notably due to a law which has virtually done away with ceilings on election campaign donations.