Arts & Entertainment and Health Care

Alliance for Health to screen controversial film

Political documentary claims health care system is seriously flawed.

November 29, 2013
| By Pete Daly |
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The Alliance for Health First Friday forum this week is pegged to a free public screening of a recent political documentary one expert says has been seen by practically everybody in the health care industry.

Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare” was released in 2012 and won an award in the documentary category at the Sundance Film Festival.

“Everybody’s seen “Escape Fire,’” said Mike La Penna, founder of the La Penna Group in Grand Rapids, business consultants to the health care industry since the late 1980s and well-known in the industry throughout the U.S. The firm serves hospitals and physicians’ groups, and also helps corporations such as Toyota, British Petroleum, Time Inc. and more set up on-site health care services for employees.

A panel discussion on the film and public Q&A will follow the screening.       

The “Escape Fire” website says the film “tackles one of the most pressing issues of our time: how can we save our badly broken healthcare system?”

It goes on to state that American health care costs are rising so rapidly, they could reach $4.2 trillion annually, roughly 20 percent of the gross domestic product, within 10 years. It says Americans spend $300 billion a year on pharmaceutical drugs — almost as much as the rest of the world combined.

“We pay more, yet our health outcomes are worse. About 65 percent of Americans are overweight and almost 75 percent of healthcare costs are spent on preventable diseases that are the major causes of disability and death in our society,” the website says.

It further states that “powerful forces” maintain the status quo in the U.S., which is a “medical industry designed for quick fixes rather than prevention, for profit-driven care rather than patient-driven care.”

La Penna said it “is a very worthwhile film to watch” that “does a great job in raising the issues and talking about the health (of Americans), and critiquing the health care industry as we know it and its payment system here in the U.S.”

He said it should not be confused with the current debate across the country regarding health insurance reform and Obamacare, which La Penna equates to “just tweaking things around the edges.”

The premise of the documentary, he said, would start by completely reorganizing health care, to include reshaping the current American approach toward “the public health sector, education, diet and exercise — all those things that make us a rather unhealthy nation,” in La Penna’s words.

The documentary narrators include doctors Don Berwick, Andrew Weil and Dean Ornish.

Berwick, said La Penna, is the former administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid — “a very well-respected health care figure” but an activist who lost that job because he “was too radicalized for the medical main stream.”

Weil is also “a force to be reckoned with,” a classically trained M.D. whom La Penna described as “the Dalai Lama of integrative alternative medicine.”

Ornish is founder of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif. La Penna said Ornish is “very much about changing diet and changing exercise (habits) — the way we live — to address health care problems.”

La Penna said that with Berwick, Weil and Ornish featured in the documentary, “you don’t even need to tell me what the movie is about — I already know.”

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean he does not agree with the point of the film.

“For the amount of money we spend in the U.S. (on health care), we spend it the wrong way and through the wrong channels,” said La Penna.

“If we took a small amount of that and refueled the health care programs in the schools … in the different institutions that are oriented toward the social well-being, we would be a lot further ahead. And the statistics all bear out that we don’t get return on investment in the United States for the amount of dollars we spend.”

“That’s what they are saying — that it’s an unsustainable situation,” especially in view of the aging population of the United States, which will continue to add to the overall cost of health care.

The film will be shown at 8 a.m. at Celebration! Cinema North at Knapp Street and the East Beltline. Admission is free but registration is required in advance on the Alliance for Health website at

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