Welcome Wendell Potter, and John Chandley (Scarecrow at MyFDL)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans

John Chandley, Host:

Many of you who closely followed the national debate leading up to the Affordable Care Act of 2010 know about Wendell Potter. He’s the former VP of Communications at health insurer giant CIGNA who resigned his head PR job in May 2008 after he came to believe his job and the industry he was shielding were morally offensive.

Potter’s resignation followed a series of “road to Damascus” epiphanies, including a visit to a free health care clinic in 2007, where he saw thousands of uninsured and underinsured Americans lined up to get care they could not otherwise afford, even with insurance. He helped the industry plot how to discredit Michael Moore and SICKO, but he realized that Moore’s basic points were correct. He later apologized to Moore on Countdown.

But the “horrors” he had to defend hit home when Potter had to draft CIGNA’s PR responses to the November 2007 death of Nataline Sarkisyan after CIGNA, playing the insurer’s role of a real death panel, initially said it would not cover a liver transplant for a patient already suffering from cancer. CIGNA’s PR reaction to the public outrage was to mount a massive PR campaign using APCO Worldwide and front organizations to deflect attention from CIGNA and the insurance industry’s practices. Potter recalls his reaction to what he’d helped create:

I was dismayed with what I read and disgusted with myself. It finally dawned on me that, in my own quest for money and prestige, I had sold my soul. I had become the antithesis of what I had once tried to be as a journalist many years before. “Who are you?” I remember asking myself that day. “How did you get here? How did this happen to you?”

In July of 2009 Potter first appeared in the national debate, testifying before Senator Rockefeller’s Committee on how health insurers cynically used rescission, denial of coverage, purging of small businesses (with older, sicker workers) to limit coverage. Soon after, he did a half-hour interview on Bill Moyers Journal, interviews on Democracy Now and became a regular on network and cable shows during the health reform debate.

Deadly Spin retells much of that reform effort story, and that alone is a great read and a fine resource from an ex-industry insider. But there’s much more here. That story becomes a platform for relating over a hundred years of failed efforts, led by corporate America, to bring universal health care to America. We’re still failing, though Potter, who endorsed the need for a strong Public Option, calls the ACA a “partial victory, of sorts.”

Deadly Spin is necessarily an indictment of private health insurance. We read of its evolution and market concentration after the Clinton failure, its capture by Wall Street and how investors’ demand for profits and lower “medical loss ratios” combined with CEOs’ greed for obscene compensation to drive actual “health care” out of insurer’s corporate priorities

But as worth reading as all that is, it’s all preface to Potter’s broader message: that American democracy is now being systematically “spun” by corporate PR – much of it dishonest and harmful propaganda – in ways that stifle needed reforms in every field from health care to food safety to energy and climate change and financial reform.

Potter began as a reporter but became a PR expert, as good as anyone in his industry, and he now sees the dark side of his craft everywhere, especially it’s effects to corrupt media and distort debate. Most of what we read or see on TV on controversial issues is probably coming from an industry paid-for PR firm, laundering money, concealing accountability and running front groups to dupe unsuspecting members or protesters. The Koch Brothers, Dick Armey’s “Freedom” group and the Tea Party are the result and now the norm.

We see the practices of “big oil” (think, BP’s efforts after the Gulf Oil disaster, or Chevron/Exxon-Mobil’s attacks on climate science), “big soda” – those ads you’re seeing about an invasive “food tax” are sponsored by Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper and beverage can makers trying to avoid a tax on soda sugar content. And of course, “big banks,” who managed to water down financial reform by using basic PR techniques to portray themselves as part of the solution while buying off Congress and the Administration. And most recently, Jane and Marcy Wheeler have been exposing the same type of PR hit campaign for the Chamber of Commerce and Bank of America.

Potter reminds us all these industries learned their craft from Big Tobacco’s relentless decades long efforts to avoid going to jail, even though their products contribute to the deaths of over 400,000 people every year. As Wendell puts it, in a section entitled, “Our products kill, but we’re socially responsible,” we live in a PR world dominated of Big Tobacco’s “Playbook,” the anti-Bible of PR men. “The tobacco industry has, in effect, injected its negative, manipulating DNA into corporate culture worldwide.”

So how can we become smarter and fight back? Potter tells us to watch for the signs of the tobacco “playbook.” Here’s a sample of how corporations manipulate the public debate behind the scenes:

• Hire a big and well-connected PR firm, preferably one that has established a reputation not so much for public “relations” as for public “deception.” . . .
• Set up and operate a coalition or front group, which, if at all possible, should have words like “American” or “freedom” or “choice” in its name. You can launder your money through your PR firm . . . The PR firm will also:
• Recruit third parties to list as members of your front group. [who] can range from mom-and-pop bodega owners and motel operators to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, . . .
• Write letters to the editor and op-eds and place them in local and national publications. In fact, the PR firm will do all the writing and placing. . . .
• Cultivate close relationships with editors and publishers. . . . to influence the tone and content of articles that those reporters write about your company and your industry . . .
• Conduct a bogus survey or slice and dice data with the intend of misleading or “lying with statistics.” . . .
• Feed talking points to TV pundits and frequent contributors to op-ed pages. . . .
• Develop and carry out a duplicitous communications campaign. . . . Behind the scenes, your firm will be using the front groups and their devious tactics to do the necessary dirty work for you.

And on that cheery note, please welcome Wendell Potter to FireDogLake. As always, please keep all comments relevant to Wendell’s fine book.

186 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Wendell Potter, Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans”

BevW February 13th, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Wendell, Welcome to the Lake.

John, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Sebastos February 13th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

I’ve been looking forward to this. Thank you so much for writing Deadly Spin!

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:03 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

Hello, all. I’m looking foward to this.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Thanks, Sebastos.

dakine01 February 13th, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Good afternoon Wendell and welcome to FDL this afternoon

Good afternoon Scarecrow John

Wendell I have not had an opportunity to read your book so forgive me if you address these questions in there.

What in your opinion will be the effect of Citizen’s United decision?

What about the Rs promises to repeal the (bad as it is) reform?

And what do you think about the bill as passed as compared to the Clinton proposals?

Scarecrow February 13th, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Welcome, Wendell, and thanks for appearing on our Book Salon. The book’s a great read, actually four stories intertwined with a personal journey. Can you start by recalling the final moment when you realized you’d be resigning from CIGNA? What finally clicked?

kspopulist February 13th, 2011 at 2:07 pm

thanks for writing this and thanks for coming to FDL!
I actually bought and read your book

msmolly February 13th, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Thanks for coming to FDL, Wendell. I am about halfway through the book, and it is excellent!

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Citizen’s United can have a devastating effect on our democracy. It worries me a great deal. We need to work to overturn it.

The Rs are not going to repeal the reform law. That’s because insurance companies don’t want it repealed. It is a lot of sound and fury.

The bill that was passed does some good. It makes many insurance industry practices illegal, which is a good thing. It is also a good thing for insurers, too, however.

Sebastos February 13th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I also bought the book – in hardcover – read it, and asked the FDL editors/moderators weeks ago to arrange this Book Salon if possible. Thanks to you and to them for your paying us a visit!

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

What finally clicked for me was having to be a spinmeister for the industry to explain why Nataline Sarkisyan didn’t deserve to get a life-saving transplant. She was just 7 when she died.

seaglass February 13th, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Mr. Potter do you think the Individual Mandate will survive the various Constitutional challenges being directed at it? If by some chance it does fall, will that in your opinion kill the rest of the bill as it’s presently constructed?

Scarecrow February 13th, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Wendell, one of the many interesting items you report is the call you got from a “senior White House executive” after Karen Ignagni released the PricewaterhouseCoopers study arguing premiums would rise — and how the WH seemed to be surprised they’d been stabbed in the back by AHIP. Do you still believe they were surprised? or was this part of the WH spin?

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Thank you all who have read the book. I actually hope it makes you all mad as hell.

eCAHNomics February 13th, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Welcome Wendell,

What gave you the emotional courage to confront powerful insurance corp?

dakine01 February 13th, 2011 at 2:11 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 9

As a technical note, there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Pressing “Reply” will pre-fill the commenter name and comment number being replied to and makes it easier for folks to follow the “conversation”

Note: some browsers don’t like to let the Reply work correctly if it is pressed after a page refresh and the page has not completed loading

eCAHNomics February 13th, 2011 at 2:12 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 11

But there must have been many cases like that previously. Why was that your tipping point?

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:12 pm
In response to seaglass @ 12

I do not think the Supreme Court will declare the law or the mandate unconstitutional. That’s because that is the favorite part of the bill for the insurers. They will be sure to get the word to the conservative justices that they need the mandate.

posaune February 13th, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Thank you Mr. Potter for coming to FDL today.

I would like to ask what you think will be the next public health crisis in the US, i.e., communicable disease?
How do you see the health care industry & the insurance industry responding?
What do you think it will take for this country to really & truly provide health care to all? i.e, Public Option?

Scarecrow February 13th, 2011 at 2:12 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 11

It’s easier for commenters to track answers to their question if, when you respond to comment, start by clicking on the Reply button at the bottom right of each comment.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:13 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 13

I do think the White House was taken by surprise when AHIP released its PriceWaterhouseCooper study. I think they had an understanding with AHIP that they would not do anything like that. It really ticked the WH off.

CTuttle February 13th, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Aloha, Wendell and Scarecrow…! Mahalo for all your efforts Wendell…!

I first saw you on Bill Moyers and enjoyed your frankness and honesty…!

I miss Moyers a lot btw…!

What do you think will transpire with the Individual Mandate being excised…?

posaune February 13th, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Another question: did you ever come across anyone else with a conscience in the insurance industry? Is there any hope for all those people becoming ethical?

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:15 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 15

I got courage actually from getting really pissed off by a fellow Tennessean. I wish I could say it was more noble than that. I just got very angry when a Tennessee congressman said on TV that half the people who are uninsured are that way by choice. I decided then and there to get in the fray.

Scarecrow February 13th, 2011 at 2:16 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 18

Wendell — regarding the “mandate,” during the reform debate, there were many moments when the media assumed the insurance industry opposed the bill, but I agree with you they wanted the mandate.

There is an argument that the industry was already in a death spiral and that the bill saved them, via the mandate plus govt subsidies to pay the higher premiums. So where do you think AHIP had come out by early 2010? Were they opposed to the bill unless the mandate were tighter, or did they secretly want the bill, even with the weaker mandate, and preferably with a stronger one?

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:17 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 17

I was more emotionally invested in the Nataline Sarkysian case than any other, possibly because she was just 17 and I have a daughter just a few years older. Plus, over the preceding months I had come to question what I was doing for a living in ways I had never done before. Going to the Remote Area Medical expedition near where I grew up in the Southern Applachians was a real tipping point, too.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:18 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 22

I think the individual mandate will remain law. It means too much to the insurance industry. they frankly cannot survive without it and they know it. By they I mean the insurance company executives.

Sebastos February 13th, 2011 at 2:18 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 14

I was actually already mad as hell, but Deadly Spin showed me exactly why I was right to be mad :-)

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:19 pm
In response to posaune @ 23

Most people in the insurance industry consider themselves moral people with a conscience. They don’t see the forest for the trees for the most part. They also are not senior enough in their organizations to be able to see what I did as an executive.

SanderO February 13th, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Wendall,

Why did it take for you so long to “wake up” to the abuses of the insurance industry… and why are not others inside there having similar Epiphanies?

Thanks for doing the right thing~

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:20 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 28

Stay mad as hell! That’s important. We must get obsessed and stay obsessed if we are ever going to have the kind of health care system we need and deserve.

diosnomeama February 13th, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Hello, Mr. Potter. What is your opinion of Obama’s behind the scenes efforts to kill the Public Option, drug re-importation, sudden love for the Individual Mandate, etc. etc.?

Sebastos February 13th, 2011 at 2:21 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 18

It’s interesting that you think the Supreme Court will do what the insurers want. Do you think we still have genuine rule of law in this country, or do you think the Supreme Court is betraying its trust and undermining the rule of law that it is sworn to defend?

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:21 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 25

The industry was happy with the mandate but executives worry that the penalties for not buying coverage are severe enough. They always talk about it being an “enforceable” mandate, meaning the pain for not buying their products must be higher than the law calls for. They will try to change that over time. But they will take what they can get for now and try to change things later.

Scarecrow February 13th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

The book has a nice history of the development of managed care, Clinton’s managed competition, and eventually the notion of “consumer-driven” care, which I think you explain as an excuse for insurers (and employers) to pass current costs and risks of rising care costs onto consumers.

That seems to be the preferred alternative of the GOP, and you see it in Rep. Ryan’s proposed “reforms” of Medicare, etc. How do you view this approach? Are the Ryans of the world true believers that this will work, are is this just part of the industry spin they’re peddling that your fellow PR guys convinced them to sell?

posaune February 13th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Is there any difference in the way religious-affiliated health care systems (i.e, Adventist, Holy Cross in DC metro area) negotiate rates in comparison to profit based organizations or public hospitals?

marymccurnin February 13th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Wendell, do you think that the health insurance industry is sustainable even with the health care reform bill? And were should we invest our anger? Thanks.

diosnomeama February 13th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
In response to diosnomeama @ 32

Sorry about the drawn out question, I still get pissed about this stuff, and consequently, my typing suffers.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
In response to SanderO @ 30

I did not know all that goes on when I was in the early part of my career. It was only when I got to the executive suite that I could see exactly what motivates the top executives and the lengths they will go to to make shareholders and Wall Street happy. Most people do not get the perspective I eventually was able to get. I wish I could have earlier in my career, but I could not.

eCAHNomics February 13th, 2011 at 2:24 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 33

I would add a slightly different variation on Sebastos’s Q. What have you learned about the way the U.S. govt & ins ind work since you went public? A little more? A lot more? Or had you pretty much figured it out before you went public?

eCAHNomics February 13th, 2011 at 2:24 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 35

Great Q.

bigbrother February 13th, 2011 at 2:24 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 14

“Thank you all who have read the book. I actually hope it makes you all mad as hell.”
How did the industry convince Obama to take single payer and public option out of the discourse? Mad as hell!
Thanks for dropping by. I am a CA health care for all activist.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:24 pm
In response to posaune @ 36

All insurers really have to operate by the rules largely established by the for-profit corporations. If they don’t they will wind up with adverse selection, and they eventually will go out of businesses. That said, if I had the choice of enrolling in a nonprofit vs. a for-profit, I would enroll in a nonprofit. Lesser of two evils.

mzchief February 13th, 2011 at 2:25 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 34

{ Welcome Wendell, John and all in attendance. }

Wendell, sounds like you are saying the Health Insurance execs are intent on continuing to “boil the frog” … I detect an implicit time line of actions. What do you think would be the next 3 steps they want to take?

Sebastos February 13th, 2011 at 2:26 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 39

Wendell, as an ex-conservative, I can empathize with your struggle to see the truth. Spin is not the sole product of any one person. Not that I would deny individual responsibility, but even the individual spinmeisters themselves are not aware of extent to which their thinking is shaped by the collective efforts of the entire PR industry.

seaglass February 13th, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Mr. Potter as Health Ins. premiums. continue to spiral out of control and as we know the average American family hasn’t had a raise in 30 yrs. @ what pt. do you think the system itself will begin to fall apart because of cost ?

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:26 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 35

I think the Ryans of the world are true believers. They are true believers that the free market system will work in any sector of the economy. They have not bothered to really study the insurance industry and the health care system enough to realize it just does not work. But they are wed to an ideology and will not listen to anything that might conflict with their world view.

msmolly February 13th, 2011 at 2:27 pm
In response to posaune @ 19

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the public option is not health care for all. It was a compromise of sorts with those who think Medicare for all is socialized medicine — and those who rake in big contributions from AHIP members.

Scarecrow February 13th, 2011 at 2:27 pm
In response to diosnomeama @ 32

Great question. The book kinda goes easy on Obama and only briefly mentions the PhRMA and hospital deals — they didn’t want the PO because a strong PO might bargain hard, especially if attached to Medicare rates. But Wendell doesn’t address whether Obama deliberately deceived PO supporters.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:28 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 40

I have learned that the insurance industry has even more influence than I imagined. And just just in Congress. The industry has lobbyists who are working on regulators all the time, in Washington and the state capitals. They are everywhere and they have even more clout and money than even I thought.

kspopulist February 13th, 2011 at 2:28 pm

I greatly appreciated your tale of the advancement of PR, of health care in this country, managaged care systems and the view on coordinated efforts on the lobbyists, the media and politicians. With the latter, I knew these sorts of things occurred but it is very helpful to hear it really is collusion not just seemingly so.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:29 pm
In response to msmolly @ 48

I know a public option is not Medicare for all or single payer. It is not perfect by a long shot. but it is better than what we have. That is why I thought it was worth having as an interim. However, by the time the Senate was considering the public option, it was hardly worth anything.

dakine01 February 13th, 2011 at 2:29 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 43

Aren’t a large number of the insurance companies already “not for profit” though? The Blue Cross/Blue Shield groups? Isn’t that why they originally were given the anti-trust exemptions?

Sebastos February 13th, 2011 at 2:30 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 43

That raises another interesting question. I’m one of those who believe that private corporations are inherently evil, and that the only completely effective measure to eliminate their evil effects is to eliminate the corporations themselves. You mentioned the tobacco-industry roots of PR; there has been one book published (at least) that advocates getting rid of tobacco companies as the only effective solution to the tobacco problem:

Callard, Cynthia; Collishaw, Neil E.; Thompson, Dave. Curing the addiction to profits: a supply-side approach to phasing out tobacco. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives; 2005.

Is your thinking moving in that direction, with regard to corporations in general?

eCAHNomics February 13th, 2011 at 2:31 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 47

What’s so hard to understand that the med ins ind is the ultimate moral hazard. They make profits by denying coverage. Is Ryan too stupid to understand that?

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:31 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 49

Obama I don’t think intended to deliberately deceive. I don’t think that when he was a candidate he realized just how much in the grip of special interests the Congress really is, even though he was in the Senate for a while. I think he underestimated the power and influence of the insurance and drug companies. I also think he thought too highly of his abilities to get big special interests to do the right thing.

seaglass February 13th, 2011 at 2:32 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 53

BC / BS is my Insurer here in NJ and it’s now for profit since 2009 I believe or even earlier.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:32 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 53

There are still several nonprofit insurers, including many Blue Cross plans. They have to operate like for-profits in many ways. But, that said, they don’t have to send premium dollars to investors and they don’t pay their CEOs and other executives as much as the for-profits do. They make a lot of money, but not like the for-profits do.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:33 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 55

Ryan will not let himself dwell on this. It is important for him to keep blinders on, in my view.

seaglass February 13th, 2011 at 2:34 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 56

No offense Sir, but I have a hard time believing he was that naive.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:34 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 54

I think that we are losing our democracy because of the rising power of corporations. If we haven’t already lost it. We have a plutocracy in practice.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:35 pm
In response to seaglass @ 60

You know, he’s probably not naive, but he wants to win votes and he wants to stay in power. It is important to adhere to ideology for a lot of these folks. That is more important than doing critical thinking and doing the right thing.

eCAHNomics February 13th, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Anything happening below the radar on smaller groups getting together to self-insure, with more sensible policies, like emphasis on prevention or whatever? Or is that a hippy’s fantasy. Or do the large corp cut those efforts off at the knees?

msmolly February 13th, 2011 at 2:36 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 61

I agree with you 200%. And it doesn’t much matter whether the Republicans or Democrats are in power, because they’re all “owned” by corporations. Yes, the fringe elements are driving the Republican bus and the wheels are gonna come off that bus one of these days, but none of the politicians have clean hands.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:36 pm
In response to kspopulist @ 51

Thank you. I thought it was important for people to know just how corporations use PR techniques to baffle us, mislead and misinform us, to get what they want. It is evil.

diosnomeama February 13th, 2011 at 2:37 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 56

Then, Mr. Potter, why did Obama’s tune suddenly change on the importance of a strong Public Option? And the mandate? Like most people here, I’m not mad that I didn’t get every single thing I wanted in the bill, I’m mad that Obama a. Didn’t fight for anything he claimed to want in the bill and b. acted like he did after the fact.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:38 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 63

I wish it were not a hippie’s fantasy, but probably is. All of the insurance markets in this country are highly concentrated. Only a handful, usually just two or three, sometimes just one, control the market. It is hard for a startup or even an existing insurance firm to break into a market that is controlled by just one or two big insurers.

earlofhuntingdon February 13th, 2011 at 2:39 pm

I think that’s something of a misnomer for a couple of reasons. The notion of shareholder democracy, the idea that shareholders have substantial rights, is largely a farce. With few exceptions, large corporations are run by and for the interests of their top management, with only minimal care given to shareholders apart from SEC-driven window dressing. The days of even sharing productivity returns with a broader swathe of management, let alone all employees, are history. The other reason is that technical not-for-profits like legacy insurers operate the same as their “for profit” brethren, even though historically they had wider responsibilities than generating money alone for their owners.

bigbrother February 13th, 2011 at 2:40 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 61

Root problem sheeple coopted by corporate power.

Sebastos February 13th, 2011 at 2:40 pm

In the Introduction to Deadly Spin, you wrote that you did not want to condemn an entire industry, and recognized the existence of legitimate functions for PR. Do you still feel that way? If so, how sharp do you think is the division between legitimate aspects of PR and deceptive aspects? Do individual PR firms typically specialize in one or the other?

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:40 pm
In response to diosnomeama @ 66

I actually feel the same way you do. I was disappointed that Obama did not fight harder for change. I couldn’t believe that that his administration seemed to be asleep at the wheel when it came to making the case for real reform. They seemed to have forgotten how to communicate. I was shocked and disappointed as were many other people.

seaglass February 13th, 2011 at 2:41 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 61

I couldn’t agree more with you Sir. You can call what we have now whatever you please, but if you’ve worked on the inside, you know as you say for all practical purposes it’s either already a full blown PLUTOCRACY or well on it’s way to becoming one.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:41 pm

I agree. Which part is the misnomer?

msmolly February 13th, 2011 at 2:41 pm

I signed up for a “Blue Medicare” (BC/BS) Advantage plan because it offered things I couldn’t get with straight Medicare. I understand these are subsidized and that there will soon be a system to base the subsidy on a rating system, but for now it seemed like a smart choice for me.

Do you think those Advantage plans will last very long once the subsidies are reduced or eliminated?

Scarecrow February 13th, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Turning to the “spin” part of the story, there’s a point in the Nataline story, there’s a point where you not the company’s PR team even got reports back from her funeral or memorial service, to know whether there were any anti-CIGNA comments made there. It’s shocking to folks that the corporations would go to that level of personal invasion and surveillance, but it seems to be more common, as FDL and others have noted in the coverage of the efforts by the Chamber of Commerce and their hacks to go after wikileaks, Glenn Greenwald, etc.

This is dangerously close to outright criminal activities. Do you see that increasing, or are these just extreme cases and not yet the norm?

eCAHNomics February 13th, 2011 at 2:43 pm

That involves both the agency problem & information asymmetry in economics jargon.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:43 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 70

I do think PR can be used for good, and that a few PR firms are dedicated to doing good and will not take certain clients that conflict with their mission and values.

PR is important to understand. In fact, if progressives have a chance of winning, they/we will have to understand how to use the PR tools just as skillfully as the corporations do. We don’t have to stoop to lies and deception, but truth can be powerful and transformative if communicated effectively.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:45 pm
In response to msmolly @ 74

If the Medicare Advantage plans loose their subsidies, many of them will stop serving certain markets. They did several years ago when they were called Medicare Plus Choice. CIGNA got out of the business almost entirely then. It will depend on what their shareholders expect is a reasonable profit.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:46 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 75

These are not extreme cases. These guys will do what it takes to win. They will walk up to the line of what is legal and ethical and cross over it if they think they can get away with it.

Scarecrow February 13th, 2011 at 2:46 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 67

You stress that point about the increasing level of market concentration in most insurance markets. Yet the premise of the new regime — the exchanges — is that price moderation will result from “competition” among insurers in these markets. And I see this argument accepted even by some, uh, liberals, who should know better.

Isn’t it clear that if an individual moves from a system in which it has some market power through its [large] employer negotiating for terms to a system in which it shops as an individual in this new exchange market, that individuals will have less market power than before — that is, they’ll have zero ability to affect price, and the increasing concentration will move prices upwards towards monopoly pricing? This can’t be a stable system.

athena1 February 13th, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Hi, Wendell…
I’d like to know more about the Michael Moore “throw him off a cliff” thing? How, exactly, does that work? How far would or can the industry go?

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:47 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 45

Thank you. Sorry to just now see your comment.

Sebastos February 13th, 2011 at 2:48 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 77

I agree entirely – and your knowledge is priceless to the Left.

Although Deadly Spin was focused on the application of PR to healthcare, and healthcare is a vital topic to all of us, I thought the most interesting aspect was the insight into the general effectiveness of malign PR. I would like to see a second book (maybe you’re already working on one?) without the healthcare focus – and maybe instead a focus on what I call “spinproofing”, namely, learning how to make ourselves (and the rest of the public) less susceptible to the toxic effects of deceptive PR.

earlofhuntingdon February 13th, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Responding to WP @73, the misnomer, misconception would be a better word, is that a not-for-profit insurer operates any differently than a for profit one. As for the off topic issue of who wins in a conflict between shareholders and senior managers, it would be rare for shareholders to do so. Exhibit one would be how Goldman Sachs divvies up profits between management comp and returns to shareholders.

eCAHNomics February 13th, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Wendell,

Just to place this in a larger context. There are plenty of economists (the vast majority) who know what’s wrong with the economics of the med ins industry. But the AEA doesn’t speak out. Nor does the ABA about torture or lack of rule of law. Ditto psychiatrists about torture. Ditto. Ditto.

IOW, a reason why the PR can win the day is that U.S. civil society has larger absolved itself of any responsibility for participating in the public discourse.

bigbrother February 13th, 2011 at 2:48 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 77

I find giant advertising firms to be pure whores. The “Good” is used to sell bullshit. And that is what Obama did with the healthcare bill deal in a big, but hidden back door negotiation. It was a trade so he could get something he wanted. He sold out his base and hew knew it.

seaglass February 13th, 2011 at 2:49 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 77

Here’s a challenge for you Mr. Potter. Your the expert in PR and your absolutely right the left sucks when it comes to messaging, framing and marketing period. We talk to much and say things in a way that goes right over or right past most voters most of the time. Why don’t you open a PR school just for Progressives and teach us these techniques. It’s never to late for the rest of us especially those of us that are activists to learn them.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:50 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 80

It will depend entirely on how the exchanges are set up, and they will vary from state to state. Most people who work for large corporations will still stay covered through their workplace. The exchanges will be most helpful, at least in theory, for individuals who do not have coverage at work or for employees of small businesses that offer crappy coverage.

kabuki101 February 13th, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Wendell, many thanks for all your efforts.

There seems to be a trend, notably in California, of ramming through obscene premium increases before new legislation kicks in. It is hard for me from Europe to get a sense of how bad this problem is, but I’ve read plenty of anecdotes of successive years with 30-50% premium hikes. And every likelihood the same will occur next year too. Almost universally, one hears that the state insurance regulators are failing to do anything to stop this. They appear to be captured regulators in the terminology of William Black.

Have you any feeling for how widespread and how bad this problem is, and if so, what kind of average premiums are people going to end up faced with when mandates kick in? More generally, do you think any economy can survive this exercise in cutting its own throat?

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:51 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 83

Actually, that is what I am thinking of for a second book. Picking up where Deadly Spin leaves off and providing more help to people who want to fight back against big corporations. Do you think such a book would be worthwhile?

Scarecrow February 13th, 2011 at 2:52 pm
In response to seaglass @ 87

I’m afraid everyone would sign up for the “how to throw the worst bums over the cliff” course.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:53 pm
In response to kabuki101 @ 89

Most state regulators, unfortunately, do not have the authority to reject rate increases. It’s insane. The regulations often can do little more than publicize unreasonable rate increases. Our regulatory structure is very inadequate in many ways.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:53 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 91

:)

seaglass February 13th, 2011 at 2:55 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 86

Yes, he definitely sold us out for an inferior deal, but one that lined his pockets he hopes. I don’t think most politicians have much in the way of a conscience, so I’m not counting on him to ever connect to how much pain his decisions on Health care are going to cause. He had an opportunity that comes only once in a life time and he traded it away for 33 pieces of silver.

bigbrother February 13th, 2011 at 2:55 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 88

Preventative and alternative medicine could save trillions of dollars and massive savings in pain and suffering. The insurance industry is not interested in hippocratic ethics. Why? Are they just money making operators that deny doctors needed treatment for their patients?

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:55 pm
In response to seaglass @ 87

I do want to help people learn to use the tools of PR and to become better communicators. That is one of my new goals in life. I also want to try to continue to expose the practices and motives of the insurers and other special interests, and I will do that through my essays and commentaries. I have just begun as a senior analyst at the Center for Public Integrity. Watch for my work there.

tuezday February 13th, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Wendell, early in the health care debate I recall reading that Fortune 500 companies, outside of health care, were pushing for true reform, as this would greatly reduce their costs. Aside from some early reports, I don’t recall hearing again that the likes of IBM, Google, banks, etc., even had an opinion. What stymied their efforts? In my mind, the fastest way to get Medicare for all would be if employers just dropped their employees coverage.

Sebastos February 13th, 2011 at 2:57 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 90

Do you think such a book would be worthwhile?

Beyond worthwhile – invaluable, indispensable! Many eyes on the Left are focused now on Tunisia and Egypt. If we want to restore the rule of law in this country by means less drastic than those used recently in North Africa, we must break the power of deceptive PR and twisted “news”. Deadly Spin was a huge step in that direction, but we need more. Please do write Spinproofing (or whatever you choose to call it)!

kspopulist February 13th, 2011 at 2:57 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 77

So totally agree 100% with this. Yet … it as you know, takes lots of $$ that is currently being spent on survival – not insurance or … taxes – by the very people who need to be heard

earlofhuntingdon February 13th, 2011 at 2:57 pm

The quality of PR advice, like legal advice, is set by the client. If senior managers toss out all ethical considerations, if they adopt Jeff Skilling’s ethics – no behavior is illegal or off the table unless the government catches me, stops me and makes me promptly pay a price far higher than what I can make through outrageous behavior – then ethically driven PR and legal advice will be tossed out along with those who give it.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:57 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 95

There are not many people inside the insurance industry who understand alternative medicine. I think there is a bias against anything that is not entirely Western and what they are accustomed to. If they could be convinced alternative medicine could help them make money, or avoid paying large medical bills, they could be fans.

athena1 February 13th, 2011 at 2:59 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 96

Do you think Peter Sandman’s “precaution advocacy” (part of “risk communication”) could be useful there?

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 2:59 pm
In response to tuezday @ 97

Good question. What we will need to do going forward is to get some top corporate executives, like at IBM or GM, to publicly embrace Medicare for All or something like it. The problem is that the insurers currently are able to control the dialog with those guys, through organizations like the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber. We will need to figure out how to get to those guys and peel them away from the insurers.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Agree.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:00 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 98

Hey, Spinproofing is a good title! Thanks.

Seriously, I am going to do this.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:02 pm
In response to kspopulist @ 99

I know. Advocates of reform do not have the financial resources that corporations do. Not even close. What they do have, however, is the power of the people, if it can be harnessed.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:02 pm
In response to athena1 @ 102

Yes,

seaglass February 13th, 2011 at 3:02 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 96

I wish you well Sir! I will definitely be watching, as will the Health Ins. Industry and the NSA, CIA, Army Intell. etc. But of course you know that your a marked man for doing the right thing, right? American Corporatist / Plutocrats / Fascists hate whistle blowers worse then Islamic Fundamentalists or Communists. For many of us here though know that you are a hero.

msmolly February 13th, 2011 at 3:03 pm
In response to Wendell Potter @ 90

I think it would be VERY worthwhile. It is really difficult for even a reasonably smart and well educated person to tell what is spin and what is real.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:05 pm

Thank you, seaglass. I do of course worry that I am “marked.” I know there are a lot of people who would like for me to go away. But I am going to keep doing this as long as I can, Lord willing, as they say were I come from.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:06 pm
In response to msmolly @ 109

Yes, you’re right.

Also, progressives can learn a few things from the other side. They know that it is important to communicate with people in ways that connect emotionally. We can spew facts all day and not make an impact. We will need to figure out how to reach people emotionally.

otchmoson February 13th, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Wendell–

Thanks for the work you do. I wonder if you would do well to “pick the brains” of a few medical professionals who recognize why medical costs continue to spiral–like David Newman, MD, autyhor of Hippocrates’ Shadow, to PNHP members to writers/doctors like Roy Poses at the Healthcare Renewal blogsite. Like FDLers, I think there are many professionals who “get it” but who don’t know how to lead us . . . they can write and educate us, but obviously, we need some out-and-out activism! . . . and a message that even our conservative/pigheaded/contrarian political opponents cannot refute.

Scarecrow February 13th, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Wendell, in your discussion of the “big tobacco” wars, you recount the history of anti-smoking efforts and the realization that if Congress and Exec agencies were too corrupt/bought off, there were easier forum in local city councils, etc. Is this something you think is unique to smoking regulation or is there a broader message about the levels of government at which citizen actions can be effective?

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:08 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 10

Thank you! I thought I would go back to see what I missed. I really appreciate this opportunity. You all make such a positive difference. Thank you for inviting me to be a part of what you do.

athena1 February 13th, 2011 at 3:08 pm

The problem with that is that the other side uses outrageous lies and taps into people’s hate and spitefulness and bigotry.

That’s hard to compete with.

seaglass February 13th, 2011 at 3:09 pm

God Bless you Mr.Potter as they say where I come from. I only wish we had a few hundred more like you. ( hi level defectors from Corpville.)

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:10 pm
In response to otchmoson @ 112

You’re onto something here. One of the things I want to do in 2011 and beyond is to talk to conservatives and business leaders in ways that they can understand, that won’t threaten them right out of the box. We will need to win many of them over, as well as the folks in the middle. Which reminds, me, a former Republican legislator was just named to head the single payer movement in PA, Health Care 4 All PA.

Scarecrow February 13th, 2011 at 3:12 pm
In response to otchmoson @ 112

Good question — the book notes that after he resigned from CIGNA, there was a period in which Wendell and others tried to figure out how he could be most effective — and he did talk to the single-payer folks at PNHP — but they didn’t seem to have a plan that could use him in early 2009.

Wendell, can you tell us more about those conversations at the time and/or where they might have led?

msmolly February 13th, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Wendell, in my opinion you are keeping up with, and answering or acknowledging, more comments than most of our Book Salon guests do! And you even go back and catch ones you’ve missed. Bravo! It feels like a real conversation!

I also really respected you when you apologized to Michael Moore on Countdown. Wonderful and very classy.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:12 pm
In response to athena1 @ 115

Yes, it is hard to compete with, but it shouldn’t be impossible. Look what happened in Egypt. Eventually, people can be persuaded that enough is enough. But it will take a well-thought out strategy. I doubt that what we saw unfold in Egypt was entirely unplanned and spontaneous. I’m betting that a few people began planning this behind the scenes some time ago. It just had to reach a tipping point.

msmolly February 13th, 2011 at 3:14 pm
In response to athena1 @ 115

We keep pointing out the lies and the reaction is “La la la I can’t hear you” with fingers in their ears. I have a couple of rightwing acquaintances like that! It is so frustrating to have the facts and not get through even a little.

otchmoson February 13th, 2011 at 3:14 pm

I’m carefully watching the Vermont ‘model’. Seeing that Canada’s adventure in a single province led to their universal model, I’m hopeful that little Vermont may lead the way . . . but with federal waivers needed, and a host of corporations hoping for failure even before the first step is taken, there is a BIG hurdle awaiting the Green Mountain experiment.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:15 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 118

Well, I didn’t know exactly what to do, so I reached out to some folks at PHNP and the California Nurses Association and others. They were polite and encouraged me to do something, but they didn’t offer any specific advice or support. I think they thought I would be most useful if I had a kind of “smoking gun” that would make headlines or something. I’m not criticizing those groups. They do good work. But I don’t think they understood initially how I could be helpful. That probably was as much my fault, though. I, frankly, didn’t know that the time that I would eve have the guts to do what I am doing now.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:17 pm
In response to msmolly @ 121

It is frustrating. That’s what I meant earlier. Many people do not want to hear, to listen, to anything that might conflict with their worldview. We will have to come to terms with the fact that some people cannot be persuaded. The insurers know that. They just work on influencing those they have a chance at influencing.

Scarecrow February 13th, 2011 at 3:18 pm
In response to otchmoson @ 122

Speaking of state efforts, the book has a very good discussion of ERISA, the federal statute originally intended to protect pensions from employer raiding — but how they’ve become obstacles to state regulation of insurance companies. They even created a catch-22 situation for Nataline’s parents/attorneys, who found it difficult to sue CIGNA over its initial decisions not to pay for the transplant.

Wendell, do you see any chance Congress will address these ERISA issues? What reforms need to happen?

msmolly February 13th, 2011 at 3:19 pm

And they are behind many of the deceptive commercials, and there are lots of folks who believe what they see on TV, just like my ex-husband’s uncle used to swear by anything he read in the supermarket tabloids.

It’s no accident that “As seen on TV” is such an effective marketing ploy.

Sebastos February 13th, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Athena1: “The problem with that is that the other side uses outrageous lies and taps into people’s hate and spitefulness and bigotry.”

That was another aspect of spinproofing that I wanted to ask you about. You mentioned in Deadly Spin that there are various core assumptions, like “government involvement in individuals’ lives is bad”, that PR leverages by connecting them with whatever specific issue needs to be spun. Could we maybe catalogue those assumptions, test by focus groups or other such experimental techniques which ones are most critical, and then devote intensive effort to changing people’s minds about some of these core assumptions? Then malign PR would have no hooks on which to hang its messages, no handholds with which to get a full-nelson on the public’s rationality.

PeasantParty February 13th, 2011 at 3:20 pm

I agree with that 100%. Progressives can do the same. We just have little support from media or media tools. Your suggestions are great, we just don’t happen to have billions of dollars to pay to play.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:20 pm
In response to otchmoson @ 122

Yes, the folks in Vermont can indeed lead the way. I think of Tommy Douglass and what he accomplished in Canada in a sparsely populated province beginning in the 60s. It can be done. I will be in Vermont later this month. I will be speaking to lawmakers among other things. They need to brace themselves for opposition that will come indirectly from insurers.

otchmoson February 13th, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Wendell

My 2cents, for what it is worth: getting a coalition of forces is imperative–but HOW to do that remains the problem. PHNP and California nurses have a message–but it’s not getting out. Free Clinics have a message–it’s not getting out. Doctors who have (or have come to have) a greater appreciation for medical ethics understand–but they are not part of a group. Employers who are being crippled in the world economy because of employee healthcare are another group ripe for picking. But how to form an effective coalition with a SINGLE message (ala Egyptians’ “We want Democracy”) is the problem to solve. There are tons of individual messengers–but right now, they do not have a SINGLE message.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:22 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 125

ERISA must be changed, but it will be hard. That’s why Congress didn’t even try to take it on last year. The insurers and big business love ERISA because it gives them so much protection. The Chamber has made sure no one has seriously challenged ERISA so far. We will have to do something to counter the power of the Chamber.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:24 pm
In response to otchmoson @ 130

You have put your finger on the problem. It will require a concerted effort, it will require a leader, and it will require a well-planned strategy. And it will take time. But it can be done. I’m confident.

PeasantParty February 13th, 2011 at 3:24 pm
In response to msmolly @ 119

Absolutely! Mr. Potter, in my eyes you are a very big man. You are a man of our times for seeing your mistakes and making a public apology!

Nobody in present times has had enough innards and gumption to do such a bold and good thing.

kspopulist February 13th, 2011 at 3:25 pm

People can give talks in their communities, Congress can be petitioned via the regular means etc. but without a viable, sustainable, ethical nonprofit insurance co, with a big enough pool to lower costs, already in existence being offered to them, most people won’t be convinced that there is a better way available. And will hold onto what they (think they) have until they can no longer pay for it.

We’ve had plenty of corporate scandals and then the news swirls and the fever dies in time and the bigboys return to the table. Bigger and louder than ever.

It’s a rolling table and the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Is regulation through congressional legislation a viable option what with citizen’s united and the lobbyist pop in DC? How can something like the Insurance Industry become a market that *people won’t want to put their money in* because of ethics?
Or, how does the table get broken if not through ‘scandal’ which just dies down over time?

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:25 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 128

No you don’t have billions, but you don’t really need billions. It can be done, I’m confident, without enormous amounts of money. It will take considerable resources, yes, but people count as resources, too.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:28 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 127

Good suggestions. You are right. The insurers wouldn’t utter a sound bite unless it had been focus-group tested. We will have to understand the importance and usefulness of things like focus groups and linguistics. I’m not saying that progressives don’t understand them, but they are not used nearly as much as the other side uses them.

otchmoson February 13th, 2011 at 3:28 pm

If you need assistance for ways that DON’T work, contact me. [In a particular (off-topic) issue, I tried to reach out to various disease-specific organizations, and sadly discovered that each group felt this was a zero-sum game.] Sadly, I feel that many of the groups now forming–once they have a bit of autonomy and a voice (albeit a tiny one), cooperation descends on their list of effective techniques. Again, a single message, a single goal–and a leader who will not whiff away his ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ to do the right thing–is paramount.

kspopulist February 13th, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Yes, Mr Potter you are a hero out here for standing on principle. Thank You.

Phoenix Woman February 13th, 2011 at 3:29 pm

I’m glad you’re on our side now, Wendell!

PeasantParty February 13th, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Should we all make our signs now? “Medicare for All”

I can put one in my car window.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:32 pm
In response to kspopulist @ 134

One of the things I want to continue to do is how unfair and unethical the insurance industry operates. I will not give up on this. There is a lot more to write and talk about.

Another thought, even though the law that was passed fell far short of being real reform, it does impose new restrictions on the insurers. If implemented as envisioned, the for-profits’ profit margins will be squeezed, with Wall Street will not like. I have seen the industry change a lot in my 20 years there. They will change again. If investors want them to get out of providing basic medical coverage, they will get out. The big companies already are hedging their bets by investing in other products and doing more business abroad.

One more point: their business models are not sustainable, even with the individual mandate. They cannot keep shifting the cost of care to us and expect us to continue to buy their products, even with the mandate.

tuezday February 13th, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Wendell, do you see the insurance industry self-imploding through greed? It seems to me that 30, 40, 60 percent premium increases per year can’t last much longer. Even with the individual mandate people aren’t going to be able to afford it and the government won’t find the money to cover those who are eligible for assistance. I realize earlier you stated the mandate would be upheld by the SC and the republicans, but how are they going to be able to justify funding it?

tuezday February 13th, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I see we cross posted and you answered my question.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:36 pm
In response to diosnomeama @ 32

Just noticed this. Big Pharma and Big Insurance figured out how to get to Obama. The insurers sent Ron Williams, CEO of Aetna, to the White House at least half a dozen times in 2009. Williams is smooth. He was the individual mandate’s original champion in the industry industry. They knew what they were doing by sending Williams to persuade the president to abandon the public option and embrace the individual mandate.

kspopulist February 13th, 2011 at 3:36 pm

“One more point: their business models are not sustainable, even with the individual mandate. They cannot keep shifting the cost of care to us and expect us to continue to buy their products, even with the mandate.”

you did explain this in your book

and I gotta say I’m really jazzed about how many enthusiastic people are here today!!!

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:39 pm
In response to mzchief @ 44

The insurers are working on the GOP to try to weaken the regulations in the bill. They want to change the bill to let them charge older folks far more than younger folks than the bill allows, they want to continue to market junk insurance, which is very profitable.

athena1 February 13th, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Do you think the deal cut was something like “We’ll hike prices every time it looks like your “historic reform” is about to fail, if you’ll kill the PO and insert a mandate. That’ll freak people out and make us look really evil and you’ll be able to look like a savior.”?

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:42 pm
In response to kspopulist @ 145

I’m jazzed, too! We can do this, folks, we can beat them! Don’t get discouraged. I know the bill that was passed was a big disappointment. I call it the end of the beginning of reform. I think we actually scored a point or two, which is better than having no points on the board. Let’s take them, knowing that we’re still at the beginning of the first quarter. Lot yet to do. But we’ve actually got the public on our side. We just have to persuade them of that.

msmolly February 13th, 2011 at 3:44 pm
In response to kspopulist @ 145

and I gotta say I’m really jazzed about how many enthusiastic people are here today!!!

If it wouldn’t be too forward of me to ask, I think there are a lot of us here (we call ourselves “Firepups”) who would be enthusiastic about helping, if there’s something we can do.

Wendell, I was thinking that perhaps you could post something occasionally in our diary section, MyFDL, to either let us know how your crusade is progressing, or let us know something we can do, even if we’re just a group to bounce an idea off of.

I thought once I retired (which I have now done) I could go to one of the Remote Area Medical clinics and help with data entry or something. This would be a perfect place for me to contribute.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:44 pm
In response to athena1 @ 147

I think the industry persuaded Obama and the people around him that they would play fair if they got their mandate and if the Dems would give up on the public option. I think the Dems were gullible. You cannot trust the insurers. Period. I don’t think Obama and the Dems understood that those guys care about nothing more than money and power. Surely they have learned a lesson. They got played.

Sebastos February 13th, 2011 at 3:45 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 133

It amazes me that more high-level spinmeisters like Wendell don’t defect as he did. I saw his apology to Michael Moore on Countdown live, and it made a tremendous impression on me. I recall, too, that Michael said something to the effect that many people had done him wrong during his 20-year career, but never before had anyone apologized and attempted to make amends as Wendell was doing.

But why? What could Wendell ever have accomplished by staying in his old job that would remotely compare to what he’s already done after crossing over from the dark side? And he’s just getting started. I wish other high-level PR executives could read this Book Salon!

Scarecrow February 13th, 2011 at 3:45 pm

re the insurer’s lobbying of GOP: so what are the insurer lobbyists saying about “repeal”? Or “defunding”? Are the insurers telling the GOP to back off, or just be selective, since there are parts of this they want?

eCAHNomics February 13th, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Of course their biz model is not sustainable. So what? I’ve been watching this slomo suicide since I discovered it in 1991, a full 2 decades ago. And I was a macroeconomist, so you know that it had been going on a really long time before it was big enough to get on my radar screen.

So what if it is not sustainable? It’s already gone on for 4-5 decades. By any standards, that would be considered a successful strategy.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:47 pm
In response to msmolly @ 149

Bless you. I will indeed come back to FDL. I have not done a lot of this in the past, but I am learning. And I am so grateful for all the support I have received from all of you. I understand why many people were skeptical of me and suspicious, at least in the beginning. But I am truly honored to be on your side these days. I want to contribute in the best way possible.

Scarecrow February 13th, 2011 at 3:47 pm
In response to msmolly @ 149

Great idea, msmolly. We’d love to have Wendell post diaries at MyFDL to keep us up to date. Always welcome.

spocko February 13th, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Wendell. Big fan of the Center for Media and Democracy. They are one of the only groups that are tracking and exposing the PR industry. I’ve been a member for years.

As someone who was deeply involved in using the PR of deception and finally felt you had to stop, could you please tell me how do you convince the thousands of PR people who are engaging is deceptive practices every day to stop what they are doing. They are the implementers of the sick tobacco PR practices. I know these people. They are “just doing their job”, it’s just business. How do you activate in them an ethical world view?

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:50 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 151

The problem is fear. I can’t tell you how many times I talked myself out of doing what I ultimately did. There is good reason to fear retaliation. Those guys play to win. They do whatever it takes. They spent tons of money to discredit Michael Moore and Sicko. I know what those guys are capable of. Plus, it is hard to walk away from a job that enables you to pay the bills and accumulate stuff and live what people seem to think is the good life. I finally reached the point of saying that it was more important to do the right thing, and to sleep well at night, than to make money.

kspopulist February 13th, 2011 at 3:50 pm
In response to msmolly @ 149

seconded!
I will write an article and submit it to the local paper and talk to people at the kansas city npr station.
Mr Potter would you consider going on radio? I am not a member of the media nor do I represent them in any way, just know there would be a respectful audience with KCUR and their daily radioshows.
But you’ve alraedy done so much and promise more. I bite my tongue ;)

eCAHNomics February 13th, 2011 at 3:51 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 155

Wendell has his own website. Perhaps he could cross post.

msmolly February 13th, 2011 at 3:51 pm
In response to Scarecrow @ 155

I’ve seen a few other “names” post diaries here as a hit-and-run, but I can tell that if Wendell puts up a diary, he’ll read the responses, even if he’s not able to do it in real time. And I think we could provide a very good forum here for feedback (if needed) or simply to help spread the word about something.

I can’t wait to finish Deadly Spin. I can tell from the comments that the best part of the book is still ahead.

athena1 February 13th, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Heh. I’m cynical. I’m not sure Obama and the Dems are a whole lot better when it comes to money (to get re-elected) and power.

But I hope you’re right, and Obama just got played. I suspect he got effectively threatened, though. And/or promised enough campaign $ to be virtually assured to be a 2 term president if he did what they wanted.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:52 pm
In response to spocko @ 156

You know, some of the leaders of the PR profession have embraced me to a certain extent. They invited me to speak at the national convention of PR people in late 2009. They even had Arianna Huffington interview me on stage! The PRSA magazine carried a Q&A and later a two-page review of Deadly Spin. So there are some people in the profession who want to do the right thing.

BevW February 13th, 2011 at 3:52 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon,

Wendell, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and the health care industry.

John, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:
Wendell Potter’s website and book

John’s MyFDL

Thanks all,
Have a great week!

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:52 pm
In response to kspopulist @ 158

Yes indeed. I enjoy radio interviews and will do all that I can do.

eCAHNomics February 13th, 2011 at 3:53 pm

These considerations were what I was trying to elicit with my Qs at the beginning of the salon. People rarely recognize the sacrifices it takes to be a whistleblower.

That includes me, never having been in your shoes. Thanks for explaining more fully what it takes to do what you’ve done.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:53 pm
In response to BevW @ 163

Thank you all! I have really enjoyed this.

Be blessed.

tuezday February 13th, 2011 at 3:54 pm

Out of curiosity, and if I may be so forthright, have you suffered many repercussions from speaking out?

Personally, I feel you are a national treasure.

Knox February 13th, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Just got home. Sorry I missed this opportunity.

Thank you, Mr. Potter!

Scarecrow February 13th, 2011 at 3:55 pm

One of the things I liked about the book was how Wendell finished each chapter with a personal note. At the end of Chapter X, he said this:

“Telling the truth is cathartic. I highly recommend it.”

Thanks much to Wendell for doing that again today and for making the effort to answer all our questions. Very much appreciated.

kspopulist February 13th, 2011 at 3:56 pm

you give us hope, thanks again!

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:56 pm
In response to tuezday @ 167

Not not so much. The industry hasn’t really figured out how to discredit me. I know they keep hoping I will just go away.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

You all asked great questions. Thanks for this opportunity.

spocko February 13th, 2011 at 3:58 pm

That’s nice. I don’t suppose anyone from Burson Marsteller were welcoming you. As Rachel Maddow said on Mark Penn, “When Evil Needs Public Relations, Evil Has Burson-Marsteller On Speed-Dial”

There is no regulation in the industry, nobody saying, “That’s just wrong.” And they are very very powerful, more so that most people know.

Sebastos February 13th, 2011 at 3:58 pm

I’m glad you did have the courage to come over!

A historical precedent (which unfortunately went the other way) is Churchill’s commentary on Admiral Darlan’s betrayal of his British allies after the fall of France (The Second World War, Volume 2, “Their Finest Hour”, Book One, Chapter 11, page 230):

How vain are human calculations of self-interest! Rarely has there been a more convincing example. Admiral Darlan had but to sail in any one of his ships to any port outside France to become the master of all French interests beyond German control. He would not have come like General de Gaulle with only an unconquerable heart and a few kindred spirits. He would have carried with him outside the German reach the fourth Navy in the world, whose officers and men were personally devoted to him. Acting thus, Darlan would have become the chief of the French Resistance with a mighty weapon in his hand. British and American dockyards and arsenals would have been at his disposal for the maintenance of his fleet. The French gold reserve in the United States would have assured him, once recognised, of ample resources. The whole French Empire would have rallied to him. Nothing could have prevented him from being the Liberator of France. The fame and power which he so ardently desired were in his grasp. Instead, he went forward through two years of worrying and ignominious office to a violent death, a dishonoured grave, and a name long to be execrated by the French Navy and the nation he had hitherto served so well.

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 3:58 pm
In response to Knoxville @ 168

Thank you Knoxville!!

bigbrother February 13th, 2011 at 3:59 pm
In response to otchmoson @ 130

Obama cuts in funding…
WIC 1008 million
Food for Peace 544 million
NOAA 450 million
NASA 579 million
Energy efficiency and renewable energy 899
Science 1111 million
Nuclear nonproliferation 648 million
Federal buildings fund 1653 million
Homeland security administration 489 million
FEMA, various, around 1.2 billion
EPA clean water and drinking water about 1.8 billion
Community health centers 1.3 billion
Centers for disease control 900 million

Most are health related

Wendell Potter February 13th, 2011 at 4:00 pm
In response to Sebastos @ 174

Interesting. You know, I finally decided to speak out when I thought of being on my deathbed. I didn’t want to look back and regret not having done what I knew in my heart was the right thing to do. I had to overcome the fear.

Sebastos February 13th, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Once again, I’m so glad you did! I’ve been looking forward to this Book Salon for weeks, but the reality has been even better than I expected. As others here have expressed, we look forward to seeing you again whenever you have the chance.

PeasantParty February 13th, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Please visit here often, Mr. Potter. Write a diary post to keep us updated. We are behind you!

spocko February 13th, 2011 at 4:08 pm

How do other people rationalize doing what they do? When you left, you were replaced by someone who picked up where you left off, correct? What goes through his or her mind? Have you talked to them? And what of all the junior people there who just need that pay check? They are the ones I want to plant the seed of “what will I think of myself on my death bed” idea in their heads.

Rayne February 13th, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Wow, great discussion. All my questions asked by others and answered, too.

Great work on this book, Wendell, thanks so much. I want to say that I’m particularly glad you covered the history of health care insurance as well, very helpful for those of us who want to continue activism on health care reform and need to push back on spin.

bigbrother February 13th, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Single Payer would take the medical insurance industry down.

textynn February 13th, 2011 at 4:26 pm

What I would like to read more about is how fake groups put forward their phony spin on things and then it is just incorporated as the truth. Information that is clearly a lie is just “accepted” as the truth and people are suppose to go around acting like it is true. For example, millions of people die without health care. The new health care reform will stop little of this and it does nothing to keep the complete shift of wealth through health care from happening. Yet, we are suppose to go around and act like it’s a good health care step forward. First of it is sucky health care that keeps the uber wealthy in control and demanding the ransom of their choice and it also continues to shift the wealth like a magic charm non stop.

We also have to pretend like we have a democracy which is a huge joke and we are suppose to not mention the fact that Obama sold us out and clearly didn’t fight for real reform. Actions speak louder than words and we’re in big trouble. We must demand health care if for no other reason than to prove we have a democracy.

papau February 13th, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Hillary knew how the industry lies (in 93 my – the insurance industry – lobbyists reported they had promised not to oppose Bill’s reform if single payer was off the table and it followed the managed care model that they planned to implement anyway – Bill tool single payer off the table, telling Hillary that the task force he was going to have her head could not push single payer – as noted in her book – and the ins industry saw the possibility of Hillary actually having regulations, panicked, and Harry and Louise was in production well before the draft report was written).

So Hillary knew they lie and told Obama how they lie – so one can not say Obama was naive to trust them. We got what Obama wanted – and he did not want the public option.

But Wendell is correct – the public option while still solid in the final Senate deliberations was limited to so few eligible people it was not going to make a large impact – but it was still going to be an impact – and Obama killed it.

Wendell is also correct as to non-profit mechanics – it would still be a claim denial system – but like Savings Bank Life it would have been cheaper without the massive overhead options – which is why the industry pushed for their change to for profit – as in the 14 Blue Cross Blue Shield companies that Wellpoint owns http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Cross_Blue_Shield_Association – - Indeed almost all are for profit but a few are non-profit as the State level (a for profit owning a non-profit is an interesting concept that I heard discussed but may not exist as I’m out of the industry for many years – in any case the for profit owner would charge the non-profit sub for management so the rates would not differ from other for-profit State health ins companies). By the way – the industry killed Savings Bank Life of Mass being a non-profit – it is now for profit.

As to change and the model can not be sustained – sort of true – but the scenario that results is a destruction of our economy before the for profit insurance industry even thinks of making a change. The stock market rules pressure Wendell mentions prevents any other action before disaster.

papau February 13th, 2011 at 5:12 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 182

No – not really

Much of Group Health is done on “administrative services only” contracts with 3% – not 30% – overhead

Indeed that is how Medicare is done – with administration of claims via insurance companies – Part B is a 2 year contract that is rebid over and over again – yielding the Medicare 4% overhead.

The vast majority of current Health insurance company employees do not miss a day at work – they just have new rules under an administrative services contract. The companies no longer can apply for rate increases to fund ever larger CEO bonuses, and much overhead is gone as well as the sales folks – but the guts of the company makes an even better return on capital because it no longer requires a great deal of capital.

lalaka February 13th, 2011 at 5:54 pm

people like to see something uncovered,so this kind of books will be popular.i want to read it.

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