Wendell Potter, CIGNA whistleblower and author of Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans stops by The Nation for a conversation about health reform, insurance companies, and how progressives might better understand PR spin and its influence on the health reform legislation. Potter illuminates what the insurance company won and didn't win during the reform process and how they are now using deliberations over health reform regulations at the state and federal level to win more victories.
"The insurance industry got quite a bit out of the legislation that was passed. There were two major objectives that the insurance industry had," explains Potter. "One was to have the individual mandate included in the bill, the requirement that we all get coverage of them. And the other was to strip out the public option. They wanted to have a requirement that we all by their products unless we're eligible for public assistance or public program and they wanted to make sure that there was no government competitor they would have to deal with."
"They succeeded," states Potter.
While surprising to progressives who were hoping for a public option or a reform process that would push for single payer health care, Potter contends, " There are elements of the legislation that they had to live with that they don't like at all and that is what we need to be watching over the coming weeks and months." Contextualizing what will be unfolding, Potter adds:
...The notion that this legislation will be repealed is just rhetoric. It's political rhetoric. It's a smokescreen to get our attention off what the real objectives are. By now the insurance industry lobbyists have met with every new member of Congress, certainly those they helped put into Congress, and have said, "Look you may actually believe this was a government takeover of the health care system but we needed to have this legislation. And if you care anything about having a private insurance market, you won't repeal this bill. We understand how you campaigned. We understand that you probably need to go through the motions of having a vote on repeal. And there will be. There will be a vote in the House to repeal the legislation. And we've already seen the procedural vote they took the other day indicates that they certainly and we all knew they would have the votes to get it done. So, that's just a formality. It will not pass in the Senate. And, even if it did, the President would veto it. So what we are going to be seeing is a lot of political theater...
"The leadership of the House understands this. They have consulted their PR people to write the repeal legislation. If you've seen it, it's just two pages. And the title of it is 'A Bill to Repeal the Job-Killing Healthcare Reform Bill,'" says Potter. "Can you imagine a bill in the House of Representatives called 'A Bill to Repeal the Job-Killing Healthcare Reform Bill?' It's just absurd. It is a PR stunt, pure and simple. That's all it ever will be."
"The reality is that these companies are going to be saying have your
show but change some things we don't like in this bill that are really consumer
protections and that are regulations that should have been passed a long time
ago. " He says,
"They don't like the fact that this legislation requires them to spend
80% at least of what we sent to them in premiums on health care. That pertains
to the medical loss ratio."
"They don't like the fact
that legislation restricts them from charging older folks more than three times
as much as younger people," adds Potter. He says the insurance companies will be looking to use "health status" to charge people more money. They will also be pushing to charge the elderly more money too.
A Media Issue
Potter, who studied journalism and public relations and graduated from the University of Tennessee with an undergraduate degree in communications, addresses how the media tremendously fails the public:
He suggests that journalists should focus attention on some key states where battles will be unfolding that could really illuminate how insurance companies operate and demonstrate how fearful insurance companies of one state successfully passing a bill to enact single-payer health care and create competition against private insurance.
"A lot of the reporters who were covering the debate or have covered health care in the past have just thought this is a big yawn. People don't really care about the regulations and it's too hard to cover, too hard to explain. But, it's probably the most important part of what's going on right now. You can pass a certain bill, but unless you know how the regulations are going to be written--and the insurance industry is working overtime to influence how the regulations are being written in Washington and the state capitols."
Potter urges journalists to look at California, which twice passed single payer only to have it vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now, with Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, Potter thinks the battle could take on a new dimension. [In California, Blue Shield is proceeding with rate hikes that will result in a cumulative increase of 59% for some policyholders.]