Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Heathcare | Movie review
A health-care doc makes its points in a compelling, nonpartisan manner.
Health care is a difficult subject to make compelling onscreen—much less in a nonpartisan manner—which makes Escape Fire a documentary with major breakout potential. Without directly favoring such hot-button fixes as a single-payer system, the movie clarifies the central disconnect in our political debate: Yes, as lawmakers eager to maintain the status quo will claim, we have the most advanced medicine in the world—but that’s from a technological standpoint. From an economic one, we have a broken system, even after the good start of the Affordable Care Act. Hospitals are designed to stay full, while many doctors work off fee-for-service structures that incentivize quantity over quality. (As the thread involving Oregon physician Erin Martin demonstrates, even the most conscientious caregivers can struggle to keep their practices open.) Insurance companies have raised premiums with a degree of inflation that would put a carton of eggs at $55. Financially, as medical journalist Shannon Brownlee notes, the system “doesn’t want you to die, and it doesn’t want you to get well.”
Like many info-docs, Escape Fire could (and maybe should) have been a miniseries. The strand focusing on Sgt. Robert Yates, who returns from Afghanistan hooked on an obscene drug regimen and suffering from chronic pain, is one of the movie’s most powerful. Yet the solution—coverage for acupuncture—is small potatoes relative to the other issues documented, while still other notions (negotiating pharmaceutical prices on a national level, malpractice-insurance reform) go unraised. Escape Fire brings on celeb doctors like Dean Ornish and Andrew Weil to stump for innovative ways of thinking about overall wellness. It’s hard to imagine anyone arguing—except perhaps congressional lobbyists, many of whom, the movie vividly illustrates, have the Orwellian task of marketing the system’s shortcomings as benefits to voters. It takes powerful advocacy to cut through that kind of bullshit; Escape Fire is an honorable salvo in that direction.