The tables have turned. Over the past couple of years I've been to a number of pharmaceutical industry related and drug company events--where the security and paranoia have been noticeably increased over what I referred to as "The Michael Moore Effect". Ever since it became known that the documentary filmmaker was setting his sites on healthcare the companies I cover have been on heightened alert. But, at least for now, I think they can let their guard down.
Now, it's Michael Moore who's gooning-up. When I saw him twice yesterday at two screenings for his new movie, "Sicko", he had at least two security guards with earpieces shadowing his every move. When he introduced the film at the premiere last night, the guys were positioned at either side of the stage. And then as he made his way toward the back of the theater, they moved up the parallel aisles staying directly in the line of sight to Moore.
After seeing the film last night at the premiere, I can report that Moore--with the exception of two to three minutes of the 112-minute documentary--pretty much leaves big pharma alone. The most compelling and damning scene is in Cuba--where a woman who worked at Ground Zero after 9-11 is overcome by the fact that an inhalable medicine she has to take costs about five cents in Cuba compared to the $120 she says she has to spend on each inhaler in the U.S. And Moore takes a swipe at the drug industry lobby--specifically, PhRMA(Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America). In a rather humorous scene Moore puts a huge gold check in the hands of Congressman-turned-PhRMA President & CEO Billy Tauzin for the reported amount of his annual salary ($2 million) and plays the song, "I've Got a Golden Ticket," from "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory".
But the rest of the film is almost a non-stop indictment of the for-profit American health insurance companies and an endorsement of universal healthcare and socialized medicine. CNBC makes a very brief, cameo appearance toward the beginning of the film. Moore uses quick clips of Sue Herera, Bob Pisani and Erin Burnett referring to the earnings reports of various HMOs. I won't give an opinion here on the film's content or the issues raised. But I will say that I think the movie is the most slickly produced of all the Moore documentaries I've seen and, at times, extremely compelling, gripping and moving.
The first screening here yesterday was for industry lobbyists. Moore took out a full-page ad in "The Washington Post" last weekend inviting hundreds of the "K-Street" people to the event. But, as you might expect, only about a half-a-dozen of them showed. It was another masterfully orchestrated Michael Moore publicity stunt with more reporters and cameras than actual attendees. He made his point.
And later at the red-carpet premiere only about half a dozen sitting members of Congress showed up. And all of them were Democrats. Moore was preaching to the choir. But after the screening one congressman told me he's changing his tune. Rep. Bobby Rush from Chicago's Southside said he will no longer accept any campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical or health insurance industries. A quick check of www.opensecrets.orgshows that Congressman Rush has received more than $100,000 from the two groups over the past 15 years or so. Only one presidential candidate came to the premiere, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, and he told me it's been his policy all along not to take HMO or drug money. However, the Center for Responsive Politics says the Congressman has accepted money from the nursing home and hospital industries. Hospitals also take it on the chin in "Sicko".
The Weinstein Company and Lions Gate have announced they're moving up the opening of the film to tomorrow at one theater in New York City. They're also going to "sneak" it in more than 30 other cities this weekend. They claim they're doing that because of the standing ovations the movie has received at a few screenings so far. Our own Julia Boorstin says the studios just want to strike while the "buzz" is still hot. Others say it's to try to blunt the internet pirating that's already occured--a clean copy of "Sicko" showed up on YouTube, but has since been taken down.
"Sicko" will still open wide on June 29th.
Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com