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Blowing the Whistle on the U.S. Health Insurance Industry

July 16, 2009

There’s an extraordinary interview with former CIGNA executive Wendell Potter on ‘Democracy Now!’ this week.  Potter spent twenty years working for the health care industry, and up until a few months ago was the chief spokesperson and PR pointman for health insurance giant CIGNA.  He even developed and launched the industry’s counterattack against Michael Moore and his documentary, ‘Sicko’.

But when Potter saw his industry using the same talking points and scare tactics against President Obama’s health care plan that they had used to destroy Hillary Clinton’s efforts at reform back in the ’90s, he knew he couldn’t do it any more.

The interview is a fascinating look at the tactics used by the U.S. for-profit insurance industry to discredit anyone who would suggest having a public health care system – even a watered-down, parallel system to their own. And a single-payer system like we have here? That, according to Potter, is the industry’s worst nightmare.

Well, the game plan is based on scare tactics. And, of course, the thing they fear most is that the country will at some point gravitate toward a single-payer plan. That’s the ultimate fear that they have. But currently—and they know that right now that is not something that’s on the legislative table. And they’ve been very successful in making sure that it isn’t. They fear even the public insurance option that’s being proposed, that was part of President Obama’s campaign platform, his healthcare platform. And they’ll pull out all the stops they can to defeat that.

Towards the end of the interview, Potter does a fair job of explaining Canada’s health care system to an American audience used to having the bejeesus scared out of them about the evils of Canadian socialism (“Do you want a Government bureaucrat standing between you and your doctor?”). That fear has been generated largely by third-party ads using people like Dr. Brian Day, who has his own reasons for promoting private health care.

Happily, people like Wendell Potter are pulling back the curtain and exposing the health care industry’s use of the same sorts of lies and PR tactics the tobacco industry used so effectively for so long. It’s a long interview but well worth listening to and/or reading in full. Especially if we start seeing those same tactics being deployed here in Canada.



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5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2009 12:11 am

    I have been posting this story on my blog and elsewhere for a while now…. you would think it would have some impact – it seems like such a damning story.

    Instead the tools of the insurance companies find ways to ignore it. According to them, Potter is just a tool for us Liberals.

    — hippieprof

  2. nmboudin permalink*
    July 31, 2009 10:35 pm

    I have hope that there is going to be tectonic shifts in the way HMOs are permitted to operate in the US. I was particularly impressed with the blistering condemnation of the providers’ practice of rescission in a recent House subcommittee hearing. This can be heard in the podcast of the very fine radio program “This American Life.” The episode was called “The Fine Print” and can be heard here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?sched=1308.

    The questioner held the fire to the feet of CEOs about the practice where for certain kinds of illnesses, the insurance company makes every effort to find mistakes in the application, or to relate non-pertinent ailments into the claim so as to decline paying out.

  3. reneethewriter permalink
    July 17, 2009 8:14 pm

    Another home run. A great read. I’d never head of Wendell Potter. The linkages to what’s happening here in Canada, very good and a needed reminder. What a precious thing we have. God bless the generations before us who had the foresight to create single payor here in Canada. I sometimes wonder that too many Canadians no longer have anyone in their “kinship” network who can tell them/remind us of the old days. Most of us have been born and brought up under the our current system. In one of the provinces where i grew up, SK, in the 70’s, the “war stories” of doctors on either side of the issue were legend. I dedicate this comment to the memory of one such Doctor from Prince Albert, Dr. Martinsen, who suffered enormously at the hands of his M.D. colleagues because he supported Medicare.

  4. corsullivan permalink*
    July 17, 2009 1:02 pm

    Great post. The line about “a government bureaucrat standing between you and your doctor” is rather ironic, considering that Americans routinely get their access to health care through private insurance companies that can sometimes be amazingly obstructionist. I’ve never understood why so many Americans cheerfully accept being pushed around by corporations, but bristle at the idea of even a gentle nudge from the government.

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