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Health Insurance Industry's Worst Nightmare: The Truth

By Pamela Jean
Review | November 15, 2010

HAYS, Kan. - "My name is Wendell Potter and for 20 years I worked as a senior executive at health insurance companies, and I saw how they confuse their customers and dump the sick -- all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors." This is how he introduced himself to a Senate committee.

As a senior vice president of CIGNA, Potter had access to the inner workings of major insurance companies.

He had walked away from a six-figure salary and two decades as an insurance executive because he could no longer abide the routine practices of an industry where the needs of sick and suffering Americans take a backseat to the bottom line. The last straw: when he visited a rural health clinic and saw hundreds of Americans standing in line in the rain to receive treatment in stalls built for livestock.

Truth tellers, like Potter, are becoming the insurance industry's worst nightmares.

As Potter said in an interview with Bill Moyers,

"The free market does not work in health care like it does in other sectors of the economy. In fact, it works just the opposite. And what's happening is that competition is driving up cost. It's not controlling cost. It's driving them up. It doesn't work like other sectors of the economy. The hospitals and the doctors, now that they are bigger and more powerful and have more bargaining clout, can get more at the bargaining table, in terms of increases in what the insurance companies pay them. So that's why costs keep going up. The insurance companies have lost the ability to control costs. And the way they're continuing to make money is to shift more and more of the cost to us, through these high deductible plans that they're marketing."

Potter first made national headlines with his scorching testimony before the Senate panel on health care reform. This credible managed care insider explained to the senators how health insurers make promises they have no intention of keeping, how they flout regulations designed to protect patients, and how they skew and corrupt the political debate with multibillion-dollar PR campaigns designed to spread disinformation.

In his new book, Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans (November 2010), Potter explains how the PR expenditures and corporate profits attempt to cover up the truth about how actual medical care is being denied to and held back from the consumers.

He has firsthand knowledge about what makes insurance companies tick. Potter talks about how the corporate goals of insurance companies are in direct opposition to the stated purpose of health insurance.

Potter shows us how relentless PR assaults play an insidious role in our political process. He takes readers behind the scenes to show how a huge chunk of our absurd healthcare spending actually bankrolls the healthcare industry's propaganda campaign and lobbying efforts focused on just protecting one thing: their own corporate profits.

At whose expense? Ours. We pay for their obscene profits out of our insurance premiums. That's not all. We pay not just with our pocketbooks, but all too often with our health and our lives.

There's a direct relationship; a zero-sum result. The bigger the profits that insurance companies keep, the fewer medical treatments or preventive interventions they will allow patients to receive.

Ironically, the dollars that insurance companies pocket for their own profits or spend on their propaganda campaigns are much needed dollars that could, and should, have been spent on caring for patients, healing the sick or saving lives.

Deadly Spin tells us why -- and how -- we must fight back.

Whatever the fate of the national health care legislation, most legislation currently being considered still makes no attempt to change that fundamental problem.

This book helps light the way to the right kind of reform - changing the way that health care in America is financed.

After reading this book, Howard Dean said,

"The recently passed health care bill did many good things, including make health insurance available to more Americans and restrain some of the most egregious practices of the health insurance industry. It also forced more people to become customers of that industry. What the bill did not do is reform the health care system. Wendell Potter explains why not, and what went wrong."

Since his first testimony in Congress, Potter has testified before two House committees, briefed several members of Congress and their staffs, appeared with members of Congress at several press conferences, spoken at more than 100 public forums, and has been the subject of numerous articles in the U.S. and foreign media.

Potter currently serves as the Senior Fellow on Health Care for the Center for Media and Democracy, an independent, non-partisan public interest organization, and speaks out on both the need for a fundamental overhaul of the American health care system and on the dangers to American democracy and society of the decline of the media as watchdog, which has contributed to the growing and increasingly unchecked influence of corporate public relations.

At CIGNA, Potter served in a variety of positions over 15 years, most recently as head of corporate communications and chief corporate spokesperson. Prior to joining CIGNA, Potter headed communications at Humana Inc., another large for-profit health insurer. Before that he was director of public relations and advertising for the Baptist Health System of East Tennessee and a partner in an Atlanta public relations firm.

"Wendell Potter transformed the national debate over health care when he stood up and told the truth about the health insurance industry. By breaking the insurance industry's code of silence and explaining to his fellow Americans how health insurance companies put profits ahead of patient care, Wendell showed extraordinary courage. The compelling story of Wendell's conversion from a health care executive to an outspoken reform advocate is essential reading for anyone trying to understand the American health care system." -- Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia

"Deadly Spin makes clear what reporters were--and are--up against as they try, and often fail, to make the complex pros and cons of health care reform clear to citizens, as big-money players misdirect and obfuscate. More important, it illuminates what citizens are up against as they try to figure it out."--Mike Hoyt, Executive Editor, Columbia Journalism Review

"Trenchantly critiques the failure of America's for-profit health-insurance system: the underhanded methods insurers use to 'dump the sick'; the skyrocketing premiums and deductibles that put health care beyond the reach of millions; the obscene salaries executives rake in while denying benefits to patients. These criticisms aren't new, but Potter's street cred and deep knowledge of the industry make his indictment unusually vivid and compelling."--Publishers Weekly

"An illuminating, up-to-the-minute testimonial sure to garner widespread attention and controversy."--Kirkus Reviews

"May be the ideal whistleblower."--Time

"As one former insurance executive testified before Congress, insurance companies are not only encouraged to find reasons to drop the seriously ill; they are rewarded for it. All of this is in service of meeting what [Potter] called 'Wall Street's relentless profit expectations.'" -- President Barack Obama, quoting Potter before Congress


Too bad the inmates just took over the asylum and with it any chance for meaningful reform

Are we letting the cats design the cages for the canaries?

Great article, Pam, and as important an issue as there is today. Having just returned from Canada, I'm still reeling from the feeling of being in a society where the healthcare system is not controlled by predatory corporations for the purpose of generating massive profits, but is actually operated for the purpose of providing healthcare to people. It would really be easy for our country to extend Medicare to everyone if it wasn't for the lobbies of this big killer corporations. If the US government wasn't dropping trillions of dollars into attacking small countries, we could use a little portion of that money to help finance the expanded system. And yeah, some health insurance companies would have to make less money and actually provide a service that attracts customers.

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