There are few people today who have the courage and wisdom of Wendell Potter. Potter's determined passion to help educate the American public and help them understand the "deadly spin" of the for-profit health insurance industry serves as a centering force in a world that appears to be turned upside down no matter where one looks.
Potter, a former public relations executive with CIGNA, reached deep within his soul about five years ago after a life-changing event and became determined his legacy would carry far more than the words "retired health insurance executive." Few have understood -- or participated first hand -- in the intentional deceit by the health insurance companies of how the for-profit health care system functions.
Wendell Potter: So much more than a retired insurance executive
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In his book Deadly Spin (see below), Potter provides not just an expose' of health insurers but a stark warning that corporate spin is distorting our democracy. But yet it is more than just his knowledge and "insider's understanding" of this industry that make Potter such a force in the debate that will continue for years on how to reform a health care system that is rigged to work for corporate interests rather than people.
It is that quiet sense of speaking truth to power; the inner knowledge that he possesses that helping people is what matters in life. No screaming from a pulpit, no finger-pointing in anyone's face. Rather a calm resolve that comes only from an inner peace that moves one forward through immeasurable odds. He remains a beacon of hope in 21 st century
We at Wisdom Voices are honored to have had the opportunity to have talked one-on-one with Wendell Potter on a recent visit to
On why he decided to have a change of heart/soul on what he was called to do with his professional life:
"I think a lot had to do with the fact that I was born to a working class family in the southern
"I left my journalism career and got into public relations more than 35 years ago, and I ultimately wound up in the health insurance industry. I had a very successful PR career, but I still had that training as a journalist and I still knew where I came from.
"I went back to visit my family in Tennessee 5 years ago and I read about something called the Health Care Expedition that was being held not too far from where I grew up. I had never heard of anything like this before. There were articles that people would be traveling from hundreds of miles away -- from
"I saw people lined up by the thousands at this three-day event trying to get care that was being provided free. That morning, people were soaking wet because it had been raining. They were lined up to get care that was being provided in barns, and then it hit me. I realized that those people could have been my neighbors, people I had grown up with, people I had shared cultural roots with. I realized that what I was doing for a living, in some way, was making it necessary for those people to have to resort to those lengths in order to receive care.
"I made a commitment that day that I would figure out some other way to make a living and ultimately did. That was an eye opener for me. Had I not been from that region, had I not gone back home at that time, had I not been curious enough to check it (the health exposition) out. There were many things that impacted me. It was a reminder as I began to think more of my life. I realized that what I was doing was in many ways the opposite of what I was trying to do in my first career (journalism). Then, I was trying to educate and enlighten and inform people. Now, more often than not, I was trying to obscure and misdirect the truth. I became so utterly ashamed of what I had become that I ultimately walked away from that job a few months later."
On why others within the industry chose not to follow Potter's path:
"We get stuck. We have tuition payments, car payments, and house payments. We have a lifestyle we've grown accustomed to. Our egos (and sense of who we are) are wrapped up in what we do. It's hard to walk away from that. People think it's impossible to walk away from that. I realized that it was not.
"It's been a blessing. I don't make near as much money, but I can't think of any measure in which this has not been a blessing. I've met some of the most wonderful people since I've been away from that industry and have had experiences I would never have had. I've been stretched in ways I couldn't imagine. I was never one who wanted to speak in front of an audience or to go in front of a camera. But I've overcome that. It was necessary if I was going to be doing what I was going to be doing. I had to walk through my fears.
"I keep a gratitude journal and that is so helpful for me to have reminders of just how much joy I have in my life. That keeps me centered. I'm just so grateful to be doing what I'm doing. As I was contemplating making this decision, I was thinking about my own legacy -- what I would want my legacy to be when I'm no longer on this earth. I realized that I sure didn't want it to be "a retired insurance company executive'. I knew that I had some things that I thought I could and should do, that if I didn't do, I would regret on my death bed."