Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Sicko' Glorifies Cuban Health Care

NEW YORK -- Cuba works hard to jam American TV signals and keep out decadent Hollywood films. But it's a good bet that Fidel Castro's government will turn a blind eye to bootleg copies of "Sicko," Michael Moore's newest movie, if they show up on the streets of Havana.

"Sicko," the talk of the Cannes Film Festival last week, savages the U.S. health care system -- and along the way extols Cuba's system as the neatest thing since the white linen guayabera.

Moore transports a handful of sick Americans to Cuba for treatment in the course of the film, which is scheduled to open in the United States next month, and he is apparently dumbfounded that they could get there what they couldn't get here.

"There's a reason Cubans live on average longer than we do," he told Time magazine. "I'm not trumpeting Castro or his regime. I just want to say to fellow Americans, 'C'mon, we're the United States. If they can do this, we can do it.'"

How could a poor, developing country -- where annual health care spending averages just $230 per person compared with $6,096 in the United States -- come anywhere near matching the richest country in the world?

Statistics from the World Health Organization, the CIA and other sources all show that the people of Cuba and the United States have about the same life expectancy: 77 years.

Of course, many people regard any figures about Cuba as at least partly fiction. Despite such skepticism, many medical experts say they do believe that average Cubans can live as long as Americans.

Dr. Robert Butler, president of the International Longevity Center in New York and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author on aging, has traveled to Cuba to see firsthand how doctors are trained. He said a principal reason that some health standards in Cuba approach the high American level is that the Cuban system emphasizes early intervention. Clinic visits are free, and the focus is on preventing disease rather than treating it.

Butler said some of Cuba's shortcomings may actually improve its health profile. "Because they don't have up-to-date cars, they tend to have to exercise more by walking," he said.

Cuban officials assert that free health care, a variety of sports programs, a healthy, if limited, diet and cultural activities have kept enough Cubans healthy enough well into old age to warrant starting the 120 Years Club, which enrolls people who are 80 and older and strives to help them reach an even riper old age.