Michael Moore Documentary Rattles Health-Care Giants

Trade Groups on the Defensive; Pharma Companies Allege Bias

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The health-care industry is worried sick over "Sicko."
Pharmaceutical companies have told their employees not to talk to documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, whose next project, 'Sicko,' looks at health care in the U.S.
Pharmaceutical companies have told their employees not to talk to documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, whose next project, 'Sicko,' looks at health care in the U.S. Credit: AP

Few details have emerged about the 2007 documentary from Michael Moore, the filmmaker who ripped apart Detroit automakers with "Roger and Me" and now has his sights set on the $1.5 trillion pharmaceutical and health-care industry. But it's still enough to mobilize health-care trade groups who are trying to discredit the film.

No balance from Moore
"A review of America's health-care system should be balanced, thoughtful and well-researched to pin down what works and what needs to be improved," said Ken Johnson, senior VP for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. "You won't get that from Michael Moore."

Added a spokesman for one of the top 10 pharma companies: "We expect it will be one-sided and biased, just like his other documentaries."

Several other pharmaceutical makers did not return calls for comment. But Pfizer, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline all advised their employees last year not to speak to Mr. Moore when he began his research for "Sicko." It is not known whether any HMOs or drug companies will appear in the film.

"We were approached, but declined," said a spokeswoman for a second top-10 drugmaker. "Frankly, as much as we felt like we wanted to get our message across, in the end we didn't want to subject ourselves to the editing process."

Academy Award winner
Mr. Moore, the Academy Award-winning director of "Bowling for Columbine" and "Fahrenheit 9/11" -- the latter the biggest-grossing documentary in movie history -- recently told Variety that the drug companies have been on to him for some time.

"They're so hip [to me] that whenever we have a family" with a health-care nightmare "they get free health care," Mr. Moore said during panel discussions last month at his second annual Traverse City Film Festival in Michigan. "There has been a 100% success rate of the people we're filming of getting whatever they need from the HMOs, pharmaceutical companies, whatever."

On his website, Mr. Moore offered a snapshot of what the documentary entails. "Back in February, I asked if people would send me letters describing their experiences with our health-care system, and I received over 19,000 of them," he wrote. "To read about the misery people are put through on a daily basis by our profit-based system was both moving and revolting. We've spent the better part of this year shooting our next movie, 'Sicko.' As we've done with our other films, we don't discuss them while we are making them. If people ask, we tell them 'Sicko' is a comedy about 45 million people with no health care in the richest country on Earth."

Film in flux
Mr. Moore didn't return calls for comment. But on his site he said that, like his other films, what he starts with is not necessarily what he ends with.

"That, I can say with certainty, is happening now as we shoot 'Sicko,'" he wrote. "I don't think the country needs a movie that tells you that HMOs and the pharmaceutical companies suck. Everybody knows that. I'd like to show you some things you don't know. So stay tuned for where this movie has led me. I think you might enjoy it."
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