September 12, 2007
Cuba has great socialized medicine -- much better than the half-socialized system the United States has, according to Michael Moore and his documentary "Sicko."
"They believe in preventative medicine," Moore says in his movie. "And it seems like there's a doctor on every block."
To prove his point, Moore took some sick 9/11 rescue workers to Cuba. The group, with a camera crew tagging along, was treated at a showcase Havana hospital.
"I asked them to give us the same exact care they give their fellow Cuban citizens. No more, no less. And that's what they did," Moore insists in the movie.
I asked him if he really believes that.
"Oh, I know that's what they did," he told me. "One of the 9/11 rescue workers sneaks out of her hospital room, goes downstairs and pretends to be sick. She said the same exact process took place."
I suggested that was because Cuban authorities send tourists and dignitaries to special clinics.
"They didn't send us there. We went to a number of clinics," he said.
It's an average hospital?
"Yes, they have a clinic in every neighborhood in Cuba. This isn't just me saying this, you know. All the world health organizations have confirmed that if there's one thing they do right in Cuba, it's health care. There's very little debate about that."
Oh, there's plenty of debate.
Cuban-born Dr. Jose Carro, who interviews Cuban doctors who have moved to the United States, says Moore's movie lies. Dr. Darsi Ferrer, a human-rights advocate in Cuba, told us that Americans should not believe the claims being made. He describes the Cuban people as "crazy with desperation" because of poor-quality care.
George Utset, who writes The Real Cuba Web site, says Moore and his group were ushered to the upper floors of the hospital, to rooms reserved for the privileged. "They don't go to the hospital for regular Cubans. They go to hospital for the elite. And it's a very different condition," Utset says.
For ordinary Cubans, health care is different. A YouTube.com video, posted by a woman from Venezuela, purports to show the two forms of health care, one for the privileged who pay in dollars and a far inferior one for regular Cubans.
Moore claims Cubans live longer than Americans. It's true that a U.N. report claims that. But the United Nations didn't gather any data. "The United Nations simply reports whatever the government in Cuba reports, so we have no objective way to know what the real statistics are," Carro says.
Exactly. Communist countries are famous for hiding the truth. Twenty years ago, when I reported from the Soviet Union, officials insisted there were no poor people in Russia, but they refused to let me look for myself.
Why would we believe the Cuban government's health statistics?
Cuba claims it has low infant mortality, but doctors tell us that Cuban obstetricians abort a fetus when they think there might be a problem. Dr. Julio Alfonso told us he used to do 70-80 abortions a day. And here's an even more devious way of distorting infant-mortality data: Some doctors tell us that if a baby dies within a few hours of birth, Cuban doctors don't count him or her as ever having lived.
Moore told me: "All the independent health organizations in the world, and even our own CIA, believe that the Cubans have a pretty good health system. And they do, in fact, live longer than we do."
But the CIA does not claim that Cubans live longer than Americans. In fact, the CIA says Americans live longer.
When I pressed Moore, he backed away from the claims his movie makes about Cuba. "Let's stick to Canada and Britain," he said, "because I think these are legitimate arguments that are made against the film and against the so-called idea of socialized medicine. And I think you should challenge me on these things, and I'll give you my answer."
Next week in this column, and this Friday on "20/20," I'll take him up on that challenge.
Copyright 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.