Big Pharma Braces for Michael Moore Movie

'Sicko' Skewers Drug Industry, but D irector Says Film Is 'Less Partisan' Than Other Efforts

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The poster for filmmaker Michael Moore's new documentary on the U.S. health-care system, "Sicko," shows a grinning Mr. Moore dressed in green doctors' scrubs with a stethoscope around his neck, putting a rubber glove on one hand.
To your health: Michael Moore (l.)
To your health: Michael Moore (l.)

Yup, the pharmaceutical industry is about to get probed in an uncomfortable manner.

Big Pharma is bracing for "Sicko," which premiered May 19 at the Cannes Film Festival and will make its U.S. debut June 29.

By the time Advertising Age went to press last week, enough details had emerged to make clear that Mr. Moore skewers the pharmaceutical industry, health maintenance organizations, and the Food and Drug Administration.

It's well-documented that he took a group of Sept. 11 rescue workers to Cuba in March for a segment in the film. The trip, ostensibly, was to show that Cuba provides better, cheaper care for respiratory diseases.

It is also rumored Mr. Moore takes on Eli Lilly and its antidepressant drug Prozac. In a 2005 interview with Katie Couric on NBC's "Today," Mr. Moore made reference to a British Medical Journal report that alleged Eli Lilly knew that people using Prozac were 12 times more likely to commit suicide than patients on other antidepressant drugs. Eli Lilly called the report "inaccurate."

A health-care 'comedy'
"Sicko" has been described by Mr. Moore as "a comedy about the 45 million Americans without health insurance in the richest nation on earth."

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America issued a pre-emptive statement last week -- even though PhRMA reps had not seen the film. "A review of America's health-care system should be balanced, thoughtful and well-researched. You won't get that from Michael Moore," the statement said. "Michael Moore is a political activist with a track record for sensationalism." The FDA declined to comment.

Drug companies are fearful Mr. Moore will lambaste the $5 billion the industry spends annually on direct-to-consumer advertising without balancing it by showing the figure is small compared with spending on research and development and that companies use drug sales to finance further breakthroughs. "There are few, if any, new drugs that haven't come through the pipeline," said one drug-company marketing VP who asked not to be identified.

In a May 12 talk at the University of Michigan, Mr. Moore said he hoped "Sicko" would be less partisan than his other recent documentaries. "It would be great if this movie would ignite something through its art and not its politics," he said.
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