July 17, 2009

An Insider Speaks Out

Wendell Potter, a former high-ranking PR executive for Cigna wrote an expose of the health care industry. The following is an excerpt. The entire article can be found here.
And here is a related article that exposes numerous practices engaged in by the 'health care' industry.
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I'm the former insurance industry insider now speaking out about how big for-profit insurers have hijacked our health care system and turned it into a giant ATM for Wall Street investors, and how the industry is using its massive wealth and influence to determine what is (and is not) included in the health care reform legislation members of Congress are now writing.

[I]n recent years I had grown increasingly uncomfortable serving as one of the industry's top PR executives. In addition to my responsibilities at CIGNA . . . I was in a unique position to see not only how Wall Street analysts and investors influence decisions insurance company executives make but also how the industry has carried out behind-the-scenes PR and lobbying campaigns to kill or weaken any health care reform efforts that threatened insurers' profitability.

I also have seen how the industry's practices . . . have contributed to the tragedy of nearly 50 million people being uninsured as well as to the growing number of Americans who . . . are underinsured. An estimated 25 million of us now fall into that category.

What I saw happening over the past few years was a steady movement away from the concept of insurance and toward "individual responsibility," a term used a lot by insurers and their ideological allies. This is playing out as a continuous shifting of the financial burden of health care costs away from insurers and employers and onto the backs of individuals.

As an industry spokesman, I was expected to put a positive spin on this trend that the industry created and euphemistically refers to as "consumerism" and to promote so-called "consumer-driven" health plans. I ultimately reached the point of feeling like a huckster.

I thought I could live with being a well-paid huckster and hang in there a few more years until I could retire. I probably would have if I hadn't made a completely spur-of-the-moment decision a couple of years ago that changed the direction of my life. While visiting my folks in northeast Tennessee where I grew up, I read in the local paper about a health "expedition" being held that weekend a few miles up U.S. 23 in Wise, Va. Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals were volunteering their time to provide free medical care to people who lived in the area. What intrigued me most was that Remote Area Medical, a non-profit group whose original mission was to provide free care to people in remote villages in South America, was organizing the expedition. I decided to check it out.

That 50-mile stretch of U.S. 23, which twists through the mountains where thousands of men have made their living working in the coalmines, turned out to be my "road to Damascus."

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I reached the Wise County Fairgrounds, where the expedition was being held. Hundreds of people had camped out all night in the parking lot to be assured of seeing a doctor or dentist when the gates opened. By the time I got there, long lines of people stretched from every animal stall and tent where the volunteers were treating patients.

That scene was so visually and emotionally stunning it was all I could do to hold back tears. How could it be that citizens of the richest nation in the world were being treated this way?

A couple of weeks later I was boarding a corporate jet to fly from Philadelphia to a meeting in Connecticut. When the flight attendant served my lunch on gold-rimmed china and gave me a gold-plated knife and fork to eat it with, I realized for the first time that someone's insurance premiums were paying for me to travel in such luxury. I also realized that one of the reasons those people in Wise County had to wait in long lines to be treated in animal stalls was because our Wall Street-driven health care system has created one of the most inequitable health care systems on the planet.

Although I quit my job last year, I did not make a final decision to speak out as a former insider until recently when it became clear to me that the insurance industry and its allies (often including drug and medical device makers, business groups and even the American Medical Association) were succeeding in shaping the current debate on health care reform.

I heard members of Congress reciting talking points like the ones I used to write to scare people away from real reform. I'll have more to say about that over the coming weeks and months, but, for now, remember this: whenever you hear a politician or pundit use the term "government-run health care" and warn that the creation of a public health insurance option that would compete with private insurers (or heaven forbid, a single-payer system like the one Canada has) will "lead us down the path to socialism," know that the original source of the sound bite most likely was some flack like I used to be.

Bottom line: I ultimately decided the stakes are too high for me to just sit on the sidelines and let the special interests win again. So I have joined forces with thousands of other Americans who are trying to persuade our lawmakers to listen to us for a change, not just to the insurance and drug company executives who are spending millions to shape reform to benefit them and the Wall Street hedge fund managers they are beholden to.

Take it from me, a former insider, who knows what really motivates those folks. You need to know where the hard-earned money you pay in health insurance premiums -- if you lucky enough to have coverage at all -- really goes.

I decided to speak out knowing that some people will not like what I have to say and will do all they can to discredit me.

I'm writing this because, knowing how things work, I'm fully expecting insurers' PR firms to quietly feed friends of the industry . . . with anything they can think of to discredit me and what I say. This will go on behind the scenes because the insurers will want to preserve the image they are working so hard to cultivate -- as a group of kind and caring folks who think only of you and your health and are working hard as real partners to Congress and the White House to find "a uniquely American solution" to what ails our system.

I expect this because I have worked closely with the industry's PR firms over many years whenever the insurers were being threatened with bad publicity, litigation or legislation that might hinder profits.

One of the reasons I chose to become affiliated with the Center for Media and Democracy is because of the important work the organization does to expose often devious, dishonest and unethical PR practices that further the self interests of big corporations and special interest groups at the expense of the American people and the democratic principles this country was founded on.

After a long career in PR, I am looking forward to providing an insider's perspective as a senior fellow at CMD, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak out for the rights and dignity of ordinary people. The people of Wise County and every county deserve much better than to be left behind to suffer or die ahead of their time due to Wall Street's efforts to keep our government from ensuring that all Americans have real access to first-class health care.

17 comments:

Distributorcap said...

is anyone surprised the insurance companies are nothing more than choosers for health care dispersion?

as long as a ton of america thinks health care is a privilege (which all of congress apparently does) we are sunk

two crows said...

hi, DC--
no surprise.
I get so sick of the rethugs saying that people don't want health insurance. hello??? this from the people who have access to the best health care in the world.

oh, yeah, like they care what we want.

still -- it may pass tho reluctantly.
this time, I think, people will remember who voted against it and will vote against them. and, bank on it, the people in Congress know that.

an average patriot said...

The health care industry can be trusted as much as politicians to police themselves. It will never happened and I am very concerned what is going to come of the mess they pass as it will be whored!

two crows said...

hi, Jim--
like you, I fear it will be watered down and sold to the insurance companies.

I've been writing to lots of sen's and rep's to remind them that 70%+ of the people want real reform; that each CEO has only one vote -- just like the rest of us -- and we're watching what they're doing very, very closely.

an average patriot said...

I just heard a Republican Senator say if they can make Obama's health care fail it will be his Waterloo. I am so sick of their crap. They do not care about our America only their Party and making Obama fail!

two crows said...

hi, Jim--
who the hell said that?
the arrogance! party is more important than the nation???

I've known that was their stance -- ever since, at least, Newt's Contract On America. but to come right out and say it? they have no shame left. we must be rid of these hucksters.

an average patriot said...

That's funny two crows. Just this instance I was researching it but it was Senator Jim DeMint. I heard Obama talking about what he said and he should bring it up often and it will pass and repugs will be screwed.

two crows said...

those S. Carolinians DO keep putting their feet in it, don't they. and it just keeps smelling!

why don't they just secede, already?

an average patriot said...

I wish they would secede. They do all the bitching but use a majority of federal funds.

two crows said...

ditto, Jim [wish they would secede and that DC wouldn't contest them.

have you read my post [A Balm In Gilead] about my secession suggestion?

LeftLeaningLady said...

thank you so much for all of this information. i am going to send these links to most of my right wing friends. of course they won't get it, they never do, but i will feel like i tried.

again.

Ramonas Voices said...

Two Crows, we can't get Potter's words out enough. His bravery needs to be rewarded, and then we need to get out the battle gear. The enemy is at the gates and we had better be prepared.

Thanks for this.

two crows said...

hi, LLL--
yeah. on this blog I'm pretty much preaching to the choir. because I'm a coward, mostly.

thanks for sending it where it's needed -- even though its unlikely to get far.

two crows said...

hi, Ramona--
yep, the battle is being waged.

I can't believe how the rethugs are saying they'll count it as a success if we don't get health insurance.
where do they buy their arrogance? mebbe I'll stock up.

meanwhile, someone saw the reality and actually woke up. that's something.

libhom said...

This is why we need single payer. The insurance companies and HMOs need to be driven out of healthcare forever.

two crows said...

agreed, libhom
let's take HMO's [the agencies, not the people (though I'm tempted)] out and shoot them.

an average patriot said...

Yeah I remember that. Secession will never happen but I absolutely see the Republican wish for another violent Revolution coming true and sooner rather than later.