On the other hand, I don’t work in the health care industry.
America’s pharmaceutical industry is putting out an advisory about the latest potential threat to its health: Michael Moore.
Moore, the filmmaker whose targets have included General Motors (“Roger & Me”), the gun lobby (the Oscar-winning “Bowling for Columbine”) and President Bush (“Fahrenheit 9/11”), has now set his sights on the healthcare industry, including insurance companies, HMOs, the Food and Drug Administration — and drug companies.
At least six of the nation’s largest companies already have issued internal notices to their work forces, preparing them for potential ambushes.
“We ran a story in our online newspaper saying Moore is embarking on a documentary — and if you see a scruffy guy in a baseball cap, you’ll know who it is,” said Stephen Lederer, a spokesman for Pfizer Global Research and Development.
In September and October, GlaxoSmithKline, the second-largest in retail sales, as well as AstraZeneca and Wyeth, sent out Moore alerts, instructing employees that questions posed by the media or filmmakers should be handled by corporate communications. Heavyweights Sanofi-Synthelabo and Aventis Pharmaceuticals each sent similar memos before their recent merger. Merck & Co., Abbott Laboratories, Eli Lilly & Co., Bristol-Myers Squibb, Novartis Pharmaceuticals and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries send periodic messages about dealing with the media but haven’t singled out Moore by name. Johnson & Johnson declined to comment.
Rumors already are flying within the industry about Moore’s moviemaking tactics. Moore, it is said, has hired actors to portray pharmaceutical salesmen who offer gifts to doctors who promote their products. There’s also word that he’s offered physicians $50,000 apiece to install secret cameras in their offices in an effort to document alleged corruption.
In September, employees said that Moore was shoving a microphone at people at GlaxoSmithKline, Bloom notes, even though he was in town only for a radio appearance.
“We have six business centers nationwide, all of which report `sightings,’ ” Bloom said. “Michael Moore is becoming an urban legend.”
Tentatively titled “Sicko,” Moore’s film will probably be released in the first half of 2006, sometime between the Sundance and Cannes film festivals.
Reached at his home in Michigan, the director declined to say whether he’s hired actors to portray pharmaceutical salesmen and denied paying doctors to help him install secret cameras. (“I didn’t need to. So many doctors have offered to help, for free, in an effort to expose the system.”) He does admit to hanging around hospitals, insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies, including two that have not issued internal alerts.
Moore decided to make a film about healthcare because it’s “a hot-button issue with the average American — the domestic issue of the day,” he said. “Being screwed by your HMO and ill-served by pharmaceutical companies is the shared American experience. The system, inferior to that of much poorer nations, benefits the few at the expense of the many.”
Tackling the health industry first occurred to the documentarian after he shot a segment for his now-defunct TV show, “The Awful Truth,” about a man fighting his insurance company to pay for a kidney and pancreas transplant. He said the viewer response was enormous — as was audience reaction to a derogatory line about HMOs in the Jack Nicholson-Helen Hunt movie, “As Good As It Gets.” There was a raw nerve, he ultimately decided, that wasn’t being addressed.
Nancy Pekarek, vice president of corporate media relations for British company GlaxoSmithKline, said employees are uneasy about an assault.
“We’ve been getting voicemail messages,” she said. “This is their career, after all, and it’s no fun to be targeted. The problem is that Moore’s film (isn’t likely to) reflect the stringent standards of today.”
The movie, Moore said, is only in its early stages “and already people are freaky-deaky.”
While “Sicko” is coming to life, “Fahrenheit” hasn’t been laid to rest. Beginning on Inauguration Day, Moore will be documenting the activities of the Bush administration for “Fahrenheit 9/11 1/2.”