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TELEVISION REVIEW

Frontline's 'Sick Around America'

The tales outline the familiar ills with our healthcare system. What's lacking is a cure.

March 31, 2009|MARY McNAMARA | TELEVISION CRITIC

It's difficult to imagine anyone who would argue that the state of American healthcare is peachy keen; if you are ever lacking for conversational fodder at a cocktail party or in the security line at the airport, the words "so I get this bill from my insurance company . . ." should do the trick.

Those fortunate enough to have gotten, and kept, an insurance situation that meets their needs are in a shrinking minority. In fact, to illustrate how it's supposed to work, "Sick Around America," a "Frontline" documentary exploring the state of healthcare, had to go to Microsoft.

There, employee Mark Murray and his wife had a long-sought and subsequently troubled pregnancy. Their baby boy, who was born premature, is doing fine, but their medical bills totaled between $500,000 and $1 million, all of which Microsoft paid.

But as "Sick Around America" makes clear, most American workers are not so lucky. They have experienced, at best, a familiar cycle of ever-shifting carriers as companies attempt to cut costs and, at worst, the loss of insurance altogether.

Following half a dozen disturbing stories, including a young woman with lupus who died in part because she could not afford care, writer, producer and director Jon Palfreman attempts to build a case that radical change is necessary.

Although there is value in presenting anecdotal evidence validated by articulate experts, there is a preaching-to-the-choir feel to "Sick Around America." No doubt almost every audience member could counter with an insurance nightmare of his or her own; what is needed is a solution.

The most interesting portion of the documentary is an interview with Los Angeles Times reporter Lisa Girion, who did a series of investigative stories that revealed, among other things, how some insurance carriers monetarily rewarded those employees who revoked policies. But beyond that, "Sick Around America" remains very hazy, offering scattershot examples of a far too familiar problem and very little in the way of solutions, or even hope.

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mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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'Frontline: Sick Around America'

Where: KCET

When: 9 tonight

Price: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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