Two weeks after the Philadelphia meeting, I was on a crosscountry
reconnaissance mission of my own. Although the AHIP
staffer who saw the movie in Cannes provided a pretty good report,
he did not give many details about how CIGNA was portrayed in
After hearing that the first public screening of the movie would
be held in Sacramento on June 12, I asked the head of our state
government affairs unit if she could finagle a ticket for me. I wanted to
be as prepared as possible to answer questions from the media when
they began to fl ood in. The best way to do that would be to see the
movie myself. Terry McGann, CIGNA's longtime lobbyist in Sacramento,
was able to score a couple of tickets for a colleague and me
from California State Assembly speaker Fabian Núñez, a Demo crat
from Los Angeles.
The screening was an unofficial premiere. The official premiere
would be held four days later in the Michigan town of Bellaire, which
is near where Moore and his wife live. Moore had been persuaded by
the California Nurses Association and Physicians for a National Health
Program - both advocates of a single-payer health care system in the
United States- to show the movie in Sacramento first because California
lawmakers had twice approved bills creating a single-payer
system in the state. Had Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger not vetoed
both bills, California would have been the first state in the nation to
ban private insurance companies and operate its own government-run
health care system, like many of those depicted in Sicko.
After picking up our tickets in McGann's office, my colleague
and I walked to the theater, trying to blend in with the thousands of
politicians, state government employees, doctors, and nurses who
were already in line to see the movie. Once inside, we went to the
very back row and took out our pens and notebooks, ready to capture
the details of the stories told in the movie by people who claimed
that CIGNA had refused to pay for care their doctors had said they
It seemed as if there were more stories about CIGNA than about
any other company, although I didn't pay as much attention to how
badly Moore treated our competitors. Probably one of the most
memorable vignettes in the whole movie was about a hearing- impaired
little girl, Annette Noe, whose doctors said she needed cochlear implants
in both of her ears. CIGNA initially paid for only one, saying
that implantation in both ears would be "too experimental." The girl's
father, Doug Noe, was one of twenty-five thousand people who had
responded to Moore's call for health insurance horror stories. Undoubtedly,
one of the reasons Annette's story made it into the movie is
that her father told the CIGNA representative he had been dealing
with that he had been in touch with Moore.
"Has your CEO ever been in a movie?" Noe asked the CIGNA guy.
The next scene showed CIGNA's fifty-eight-story glass-sheathed
headquarters in Philadelphia, where I worked. What viewers heard next
was the CIGNA representative calling back and leaving good news on
the Noes' answering machine. CIGNA would pay for both implants
I cringed when I heard that, but I wasn't surprised. The squeaky
wheel gets the grease in the managed care world. That wasn't the first
time CIGNA had delivered good news after a member had complained
to the media about a denial. It would not be the last, either.
But the movie had an effect on me that I didn't expect. Because
of all the experience I'd had handling "horror stories" like the ones
depicted, I knew that they were a common occurrence - that many
Americans found themselves in similar situations every day. I also
found the film very moving and very effective in its condemnation of
the practices of private health insurance companies. There were many
times when I had to fight to hold back tears. Moore had gotten it right.
If I hadn't been with a colleague, I probably would have joined all the
others in the audience in giving the movie a standing ovation, just as
the people at Cannes did when it was first screened.
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