Jan. 15, 2010 by Cynthia Rockwell
Yesterday, I watched Roger Weisberg’s stunning documentary, Critical Condition, and vicariously experienced the dark side of all the times I’ve ever needed health care and found my insurance card granted me access to superb care. What if I didn’t have a job that offered health insurance as a benefit?
Or taking a longer view: What if I hadn’t had the kind of education that made me eligible for a job with those benefits? In his 82-minute cinéma vérité piece, Weisberg follows four people—and their families—as they try to deal with life-threatening illnesses without the benefit of any medical insurance:
You can view it here:
He shows what so easily could be anyone’s foray into the health care system—anyone trying to manage without health insurance because of an unexpected illness or job loss. The hardworking people he profiles are overcome by catastrophic illness or chronic pain and suffer the consequences of care delayed or denied, late-stage diagnoses, mounting debt, foreclosure, eviction, and, ultimately, hopelessness. It’s a story of lives compromised or lives lost needlessly, when routine care at an earlier point could have prevented the downward spiral.
I’ve been in touch with Roger Weisberg, who shared his director’s statement, which included this paragraph:
“My goal was to get ordinary Americans, even those who were satisfied with their own medical coverage, to care about this issue. First, by bringing the stories of extremely sympathetic individuals to the screen, I wanted viewers to empathize with our subjects and realize that an illness, job loss, or a divorce could land them in a similar predicament. Second, by presenting access to health care as a moral issue, I hoped to cut through some of the partisan political divide, making viewers feel a sense of shame as well as collective sense of responsibility for their fellow Americans. Lastly, for viewers who need a hard-nosed cost benefit rationale for universal health insurance, I hoped our stories illustrated the enormous cost in dollars and human suffering that we pay when the public ultimately foots the bill for catastrophic illnesses that could be inexpensively prevented with access to routine primary care.”
I’d say he absolutely achieved his goal—and I encourage you to watch it while it’s still available online, on the above site until January 31. You can also view two other segments that didn’t make the final cut (but are wonderful and provocative).
“I made Critical Condition because I believe that access to health care ought to be a fundamental right of citizenship and not a private consumption good,” Weisberg says.
He joins me in wishing that 2010 will bring good health to you and access to health care for all Americans when they need it.
—Cynthia E. Rockwell, P’11 and associate editor, Wesleyan magazine