An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans
Author: Wendell Potter
Bloomsbury Press, 2010.
Speaking last night in the auditorium of the main Salt Lake City Library at a book tour event sponsored by The King's English bookstore, Wendell Potter made clear that the business model of private health insurance in the US is unsustainable. He should know, until about 3 years ago, he inhabited a high level executive office at CIGNA, one of the nation's largest private for-profit health insurers. His job on the public relations staff was to explain to journalists, especially those from Wall Street, how his company was fleecing patients in order to make more profits for stockholders. Among the tactics used: reducing the medical loss ratio, otherwise known as reducing payments for medical benefits; rescinding policies for patients with significant health problems, usually on a pretext; choosing to deny expensive medical procedures in order to delay care long enough for patients to die (he called this the real death panel in American health care); and intentionally pricing health insurance policies too high for small businesses whenever one of the covered beneficiaries became ill. He acknowledged that his job in PR for CIGNA was to spin away the hard truths of this business model, or at least displace the American public's unhappiness about health financing away from his employer. But the hard truth is that as health insurance became ever more profitable it did so at the expense of a business model which just can not be sustained.
Enter the recent national health system reform debate in Congress, in which Karen Ignani, president of America's Health Insurance Plans or AHIP, the health insurance industry trade group, said to Pres. Obama: "You have our commitment to play, to contribute, and to help pass health care reform this year." (You will find that quote on page 1 of the book.) During the ramp up to the eventual vote, Mr. Potter heard industry spokesmen use the PR lines that he himself had helped to craft, which he knew to be lies. More importantly, from the perspective of the health insurance industry, he heard members of Congress adopt the lines which he had planted in their various caucuses and committees over the years.
So he went to Congress to tell them that if they didn't take care they would produce a bill that might as well be called the "Health Insurance Industry Profit Protection and Enhancement Act" (find that on page 6 of the book). "The bill the president signed will indeed protect and enhance the health insurance industry's profits for many years to come." "While there are several new regulations that insurers will have to abide by--or seek to weaken or overturn in the months and years ahead--they got much of what they wanted and were able to eliminate most of what they didn't like." (quotes are from page 7 of the book)
In other words, what is officially known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and often referred to as Obama-care, is actually a government bail-out of an industry which was on the way to collapse due to its own greedy, unsustainable business model. Every American needs to understand that health insurance is not a product efficiently delivered in a competitive free market, it is a useless, wasteful business model propped up by government rules and funding. It is corporate welfare which is killing the American economy while it kills tens of thousands of American patients every year.
Since the federal government has acted to actually worsen this problem, our only hope now is that states will stop this corporate gravy train and permanently destroy the tracks.
Join us at the Utah Healthcare Initiative.
Dr. Joe Jarvis