The pharmaceutical industry and think tanks it backs financially are readying a multifaceted counteroffensive against Michael Moore's film about the health care industry.
"Sicko" won't hit theaters nationwide until June 29, but free-market think tanks and the drug companies are already mobilizing to try to refute its arguments against a single-payer, government-sponsored health care system.
"It definitely has to be rebutted," the director of the Pacific Research Institute, Sally Pipes, said. "I think all of us want to let Americans know that this isn't the solution to the health care crisis in the U.S."
After being pirated on YouTube this past weekend, "Sicko" will open Friday on a single screen at Loews Lincoln Square theater in New York City, the New York Times reported yesterday. The movie is scheduled for wider release later this month following select screenings in several cities and at the Cannes Film Festival.
Already, representatives of the pharmaceutical industry have come out against the film. In a statement issued last week, the senior vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Ken Johnson, called Mr. Moore's film a "biased, one-sided attack."
"Michael Moore is a very talented filmmaker, but 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," he said. "Unfortunately, you won't get that from Michael Moore."
The drug companies and their allies have been on their toes ever since the movie was being filmed, when they warned personnel to watch out for film crews from the "Fahrenheit 9/11" director. But in advance of the film's release, they are upping the volume and the tempo of their activities.
"If you're in the policy business, your job is to find these teachable moments," the Cato Institute's director of health policy studies, Michael Cannon, said.
Cato has scheduled a breakfast symposium on Capitol Hill tomorrow featuring clips from "Sicko" and other movies documenting the health care industry. The event is expected to draw 170 guests, including congressional staffers. The "robust" turnout forced a change of venue three times to accommodate a growing list of attendees, Mr. Cannon said. "It's a nice problem to have," he said.
Cato scholars began last year writing Web log entries and op-eds on Mr. Moore's film, as well as posting pod casts to the Institute's Web site.
According to SourceWatch, a left-leaning group that tracks groups shaping public policy, several organizations staging responses to "Sicko" receive funding from pharmaceutical companies, including the Manhattan Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Pacific Research Institute.
Earlier this week, the Manhattan Institute issued a press release advising reporters covering "Sicko" of four scholars at the institute's Center for Medical Progress who were available to comment on the health care industry. And yesterday, the advocacy group Health Care America, whose Web site says it is funded in part by pharmaceutical manufacturers, staged a conference call that drew nearly 20 reporters from around the country, including correspondents from the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, organizers said.
"The purpose of the call was to discuss what Michael Moore left out of his movie," the group's executive director, Sarah Berk, said. "We're launching an educational effort to educate the public and the media and lawmakers about the realities of single-payer health care systems around the world."
The president of the Galen Institute, Grace-Marie Turner, who spoke to reporters during the call, said later that "I don't know how good he is a filmmaker, but he certainly is a master of hype."
Last week, her organization held a symposium on single-payer health care, the timing of which Mrs. Turner described as coincidental to the impending release of Mr. Moore's film.
Not that the release hasn't advanced her cause.
"It's created a buzz and what we're doing is trying to use the opportunity to get out what it's like to live under a single-payer system," she said.