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Documentary Covers Healthcare Crisis in America

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Special broadcast of Critical Condition airs Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2008 at 9 p.m. on PBS, followed at 10:30 p.m. by the MacNeil/Lehrer special “Rx for Change,” which explores the presidential candidates’ proposals for health care reform. (Check local listings.) P.O.V. (a cinema term for “point of view”), now in its 21st year, is the longest-running independent documentary showcase on television.

What happens if you fall sick and are one of 47 million people in America without health insurance? Critical Condition by Roger Weisberg (“Waging a Living,” P.O.V. 2006) puts a human face on the nation’s growing health care crisis by capturing the harrowing struggles of four critically ill Americans who discover that being uninsured can cost them their jobs, health, home, savings, even their lives. Filmed in vérité style, Critical Condition offers a moving and invaluable exposé at a time when the nation is debating how to extend health insurance to all Americans. A production of Public Policy Productions in association with Thirteen/WNET New York and American Documentary / P.O.V.

Immediately following the 90-minute broadcast, PBS’s MacNeil/Lehrer Productions will present a half-hour special at 10:30 p.m. “Rx for Change” is a discussion of the top health insurance concerns facing Americans. Moderated by Editor of the Journal Health Affairs and former NewsHour with Jim LehrerHealth Correspondent Susan Dentzer, the panel examines issues of health care coverage and costs.

“Rx for Change” features two nonpartisan health care experts, Uwe Reinhardt from Princeton Universityand Stuart Butler from the Heritage Foundation. Two members of the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns also participate: for Senator Barack Obama’s campaign, domestic policy director Neera Tanden, former policy director for Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign; for Senator John McCain’s campaign, senior policy advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin. Prior to the campaign, he was with the Council on Foreign Relations and was director of the Congressional Budget Office.

Featured stories: Joe Stornaiuolo of Bethlehem, Penn., a doorman for 15 years, loses his job and ultimately his health insurance. Unable to afford the medication or doctor visits he needs to manage his chronic liver disease, Joe runs up bills in excess of $60,000. When he finally qualifies for Social Security Disability, he discovers that his income is too great to qualify for Medicaid, and there’s a two-year waiting period to qualify for Medicare. Despite the support and care of his wife, Dale, Joe’s condition deteriorates, and he passes away just before Christmas. With a grandchild she now must raise alone and bills she can never hope to repay, Dale attributes Joe’s death to his lack of medical coverage.

Karen Dove of Austin, Texas, loses her insurance when her deteriorating health forces her to quit her job as an apartment manager. When she begins experiencing severe recurrent abdominal pains, the doctors she contacts refuse to treat uninsured patients. A year later, after she finally finds a gynecologic oncologist willing to treat her, she is diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer. Karen undergoes surgery and chemotherapy, which drives her cancer into remission but sinks her family deep into debt. She and her husband are forced to move, and Karen must forego expensive treatment and medication. A year after an operation, Karen’s cancer recurs. Sadly, she passed away in March 2008, after the production of Critical Condition was completed.

Hector Cardenas, a Los Angeles warehouse manager with diabetes, opted to amputate his infected foot before losing his job and medical benefits. When his coverage lapses, he struggles to repair his broken temporary prosthesis on his own. He cannot walk properly or earn money without a permanent prosthesis, but he cannot afford the permanent prosthesis without a job that offers basic medical benefits. Hector is behind on rent and is forced to move into a single room in a nearby motel. After a year without finding a job, he is hired at a new company. He hopes that he can stay healthy enough to survive the probation period until he qualifies for insurance, but he still worries that the company’s policy will not cover his pre-existing conditions.

Carlos Benitez, an uninsured chef at a restaurant in Los Angeles, has a severe back deformity that has caused him 15 years of unbearable pain and taken seven inches off his height. After learning that the county hospital will not perform surgery, he travels to Mexico City to find an affordable cure, and orthopedic specialists there recommend he have surgery. Even though the cost is a fraction of what it would be in the U.S., he still can’t afford it. Then Carlos experiences what he calls a miracle. Dr. Patrick Dowling, the Chief of the Department of Family Medicine at UCLA, who had seen Carlos a local health fair, makes a rare exception and arranges for a private orthopedic hospital and team of surgeons to waive their $300,000 fees for Carlos’s operation.

Critical Condition is a production of Public Policy Productions, Inc., in association with Thirteen/WNET New York and American Documentary | P.O.V.

The Critical Condition companion website (www.pbs.org/pov/criticalcondition/) offers a streaming version of the entire film for 90 days after broadcast (until November 11), interview with filmmaker Roger Weisberg; a list of related websites, organizations and books; a downloadable discussion guide and classroom activity; and special features:

· Basic Facts About the Uninsured: Find out more about the uninsured in the U.S., health care spending and the consequences of lack of coverage. Read about governmental and national health care plans, the presidential candidates' viewpoints and today's current legislation.
· Additional Video: Two Families Struggle Without Insurance: Watch two additional stories from filmmaker Roger Weisberg about ordinary Americans families who are struggling without insurance.
· Take Action: Learn more about national organizations that are pushing the next president and Congress to move the nation toward health care reform.
· Free Healthcare Mash-up Map (launches Sept. 30): This searchable database enables Americans locate providers in their communities, including free clinics, community health centers, primary care services and state-sponsored children's insurance plans.
· Original Three-Part Podcast Series:
o Audio Podcast #1 – Healthcare Positions of Presidential Candidates: Representatives from the McCain and Obama campaigns debate the finer points of each candidate’s health care plans at the California Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Participants: E. Richard Brown, Director, UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, Health Policy Advisor, 2008 Barack Obama Presidential Campaign; and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Economist; Senior Policy Advisor, 2008 John McCain Presidential Campaign.
o Audio Podcast #2 – The Economics of Health Care in the U.S. and Abroad (launches Sept. 30): WNYC's Political Director Andrea Bernstein interviews Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt about the candidates' plans, the lessons the United States might learn from the experiences of other countries and how rising health care costs are affecting the U.S. economy.
o Audio Podcast #3 – Options for the Unisured (launches Oct. 3): We have nearly 47 million uninsured Americans who may require health care at some point in 2008. Where should they go? Based on the information gathered for the Healthcare Mash-up Map we will bring together experts to discuss options available for the uninsured.
· Presidential Plans in Action (launches Sept. 30): Shortened versions of each character’s story with detailed information about how their situations would be affected by the candidates' proposed plans for health care reform.

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