(This review originally appeared at Reel Film News on October 5, 2012.)
Everyone in this country knows our healthcare system is the pits, no matter what side of the fence you’re on politically. Bureaucratic red tape, avoidance of reimbursement or even paying for contracted services, Health Maintenance Organizations versus private care… it’s confusing and sometimes nasty. Personally, I’m dealing with a situation currently that involves healthcare and some of what the new documentary Escape Fire: the Fight to Rescue America’s Healthcare seeks to shed light upon and expose. While Escape Fire doesn’t really show us anything new as far as what’s wrong with our healthcare, but it does give us differing facets of how the system affects caregivers and those needing said care.
Much like 2010’s Inside Job offered us an inside look into how the US economy slipped into a recession, Escape Fire briefly goes over some of what we already know is wrong with our healthcare system – too many patients, overmedication, government quotas, etc. However, it’s interesting to see an almost totally apolitical take on our healthcare woes, and it even dares to root around for possible solutions, unlike a lot of other documentaries that just stop at waxing pedantically about their subjects.
Directors Susan Frömke and Matthew Heineman have stitched together a fascinating look at people who are trying like hell to fix this broken system – people like Dr. Dean Ornish, whose efforts to bring awareness to lifestyle change and prevention are finally making a mark in government and in society. We see doctors who are fed up with how the government’s reimbursement depends on not the quality of the care, but how many patients a doctor can see. There’s a soldier who’s been prescribed so many painkillers and pills that he doesn’t know where he is. We follow all of these people who all need to instill change in their lives; they’re bucking the system, and they’re not just buying in to what we’ve come to accept as “normal,” instead looking into alternative medicines and therapy practices.
Escape Fire shows us that we have more of a disease management system rather than getting to the root of the problem and solving it. We wonder why obesity and heart disease are skyrocketing, and we don’t take the time to realize that, for instance, a hamburger at McDonald’s costs 99 cents while a salad at the same McDonald’s costs 6 dollars. A man is shown going in for heart troubles stemming from a diet of bacon, sausage, and other types of unhealthy food, yet wants to know what exactly is wrong with him when he’s rushed to the emergency room. Another woman is shown going in for the umpteenth heart stent placement, which only treats the symptoms and not the problem. We are also exposed to the fact that no other country is allowed to advertise pharmaceutical drugs as much as the United States allows. Nothing about the healthcare system seems to make much sense; it is, in fact, described as “broken” by Donald Berwick, Obama’s former head of Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
It seems that we are more interested in keeping people sick and coming back for more treatment than actually getting them well. In an episode of “Doctor Who” called “Dalek,” an entrepreneur says, “Do you know what we found? The cure for the common cold. Kept it strictly within the laboratory, of course. No need to get people excited. Why sell one cure when I can sell a thousand palliatives?” Sadly, this is the approach that the healthcare industry in America has taken, and Escape Fire seeks to show a different side of things – the side where people have said “No more.” If only the rest of us could do the same…
(Dedicated to Ariadne Anastasia Pasa, born 9-30-12)