The next day, the front group that APCO had set up to discredit
Sicko issued a statement warning against "a government takeover" of
"Health Care America, a non-partisan, non-profit health care
advocacy organization, released the following statement in response
to a California rally held by Michael Moore and a variety of advocates
in support of a government takeover of our health care system.
"The reality is that government-run health systems around the
world are failing patients - forcing them to forgo treatments or seek
out-of-pocket care in other countries."
Bill Pierce was listed as the contact person for Health Care
America, but if you had dialed the phone number listed for him at the
organization, you would have reached him at his desk at APCO in
A week later, Moore held another screening, this one in Washington.
He invited members of Congress, but few showed up. He also invited
the heads of the big health care trade associations. None of them
The industry, however, was prepared for the event. An ad targeting
the movie appeared in Washington's newspapers. The message: "In
America, you wait in line to see a movie. In government-run health care
systems, you wait to see a doctor." The sponsor: Health Care America.
For several weeks after that screening, APCO sent me and other
PR chiefs daily reports of the stories it had placed in the media via
Health Care America as well as the commentaries and op-eds APCO's
recruits had had published in newspapers and other media outlets
from coast to coast.
The campaign cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, all of which
came from premiums paid by health- plan members, but industry executives
felt this was a good and appropriate use of those premium dollars.
Though Sicko grossed nearly $25 million at the box office in the United
States, that figure wasn't even in the same ballpark as the $120 million
that Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 had made on U.S. screens just three
years earlier. We believed the industry's behind-the-scenes campaign
against the movie might have had something to do with the comparatively
small box office numbers. We were pleased that AHIP and
APCO had succeeded in getting their talking points into most of the
stories that appeared about the movie, and that not a single reporter
had done enough investigative work to find out that insurers had provided
the lion's share of funding to set up Health Care America.
We were also relieved that centrist Democrats had not embraced
Sicko. All in all, the movie, in our view, had not succeeded in altering
the "collective opinion." Spending the extra money to push Moore off
the cliff had not been necessary.
More important, we considered the campaign against Sicko to be
a warm-up act to the health care reform debate that all of us knew
would begin in Congress soon after the next president took office. And
most of us still believed that person would be the industry's former
nemesis, Hillary Clinton.
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