Health Insurance Hell

“The Hottest Places in Hell are Reserved for Those Who, in Times of Moral Crisis, Maintain a Neutrality”

Tom Bozzo says to watch this video [parts of transcript below]:

 

Bill Moyers Journal: BILL MOYERS: Wendell Potter … worked for CIGNA 15 years and left last year. … why are you speaking out now?

WENDELL POTTER: I didn’t intend to, until it became really clear to me that the industry is resorting to the same tactics they’ve used over the years, and particularly back in the early ’90s, when they were leading the effort to kill the Clinton plan. …

I was beginning to question what I was doing as the industry shifted from selling primarily managed care plans, to what they refer to as consumer-driven plans. And they’re really plans that have very high deductibles, meaning that they’re shifting a lot of the cost off health care from employers and insurers, insurance companies, to individuals. And a lot of people can’t even afford to make their co-payments when they go get care… But it really took a trip back home to Tennessee for me to see exactly what is happening to so many Americans. I … went home, to visit relatives. And I picked up the local newspaper and I saw that a health care expedition was being held a few miles up the road, in Wise, Virginia. And I was intrigued.

BILL MOYERS: So you drove there?

WENDELL POTTER: I did. … It was being held at a Wise County Fairground. … It was a very cloudy, misty day, it was raining that day, and I walked through the fairground gates. And I didn’t know what to expect. I just assumed that it would be, you know, like a health– booths set up and people just getting their blood pressure checked and things like that.

But what I saw were doctors who were set up to provide care in animal stalls. Or they’d erected tents, to care for people. I mean, there was no privacy. In some cases– and I’ve got some pictures of people being treated on gurneys, on rain-soaked pavement.

And I saw people lined up, standing in line or sitting in these long, long lines, waiting to get care. People drove from South Carolina and Georgia and Kentucky, Tennessee– all over the region, because they knew that this was being done. A lot of them heard about it from word of mouth.

There could have been people and probably were people that I had grown up with. … And that made it real to me. …

It was absolutely stunning. It was like being hit by lightning. It was almost– what country am I in? It just didn’t seem to be a possibility that I was in the United States. …

I had been in the industry and I’d risen up in the ranks. And I had a great job. … I was insulated. I didn’t really see what was going on. I saw the data. I knew that 47 million people were uninsured, but I didn’t put faces with that number.

Just a few weeks later though, I was back in Philadelphia and I would often fly on a corporate aircraft to go to meetings.

And I just thought that was a great way to travel. … You’re sitting in a luxurious corporate jet, leather seats, very spacious. And I was served my lunch by a flight attendant who brought my lunch on a gold-rimmed plate. And she handed me gold-plated silverware to eat it with. And then I remembered the people that I had seen in Wise County. Undoubtedly, they had no idea that this went on, at the corporate levels of health insurance companies. …

I didn’t know exactly what I should do. You know, I had bills of my own. And it was hard to just figure out. How do I step away from this? What do I do? And this was one of those things that made me decide, “Okay, I can’t do this. I can’t keep– I can’t.” One of the books I read as I was trying to make up my mind here was President Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage.”

And in the forward, Robert Kennedy said that one of the president’s, one of his favorite quotes was a Dante quote that, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of moral crisis, maintain a neutrality.” And when I read that, I said, “Oh, jeez, I– you know. I’m headed for that hottest place in hell, unless I say something.” …

BILL MOYERS: Your own resume says, and I’m quoting. “With the chief medical officer and his staff, Potter developed rapid response mechanisms for handling media inquiries pertaining to complaints.” Direct quote. “This was highly successful in keeping most such inquiries from becoming news stories, at a time when managed care horror stories abounded.” I mean, you knew there were horror stories out there.

WENDELL POTTER: I did. I did. …

BILL MOYERS: You were also involved in the campaign by the industry to discredit Michael Moore and his film “Sicko” in 2007. …

BILL MOYERS: So what did you think when you saw that film?

WENDELL POTTER: I thought that he hit the nail on the head with his movie. But the industry, from the moment that the industry learned that Michael Moore was taking on the health care industry, it was really concerned. … They were afraid that people would believe Michael Moore. …

The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, that if you even consider that, you’re heading down on the slippery slope towards socialism. So they have used scare tactics for years and years and years, to keep that from happening. If there were a broader program like our Medicare program, it could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies. So that is their biggest concern. …

[P]art of the effort to discredit this film was to use lobbyists and their own staff to go onto Capitol Hill and say, “Look, you don’t want to believe this movie. You don’t want to talk about it. You don’t want to endorse it. And if you do, we can make things tough for you.” …

BILL MOYERS: Now, that’s exactly what they did, didn’t they? They … radicalized Moore, so that his message was discredited…

WENDELL POTTER: Absolutely. … It worked beautifully. … The film was blunted. It–

BILL MOYERS: Was it true? Did you think it contained a great truth?

WENDELL POTTER: Absolutely did.

BILL MOYERS: What was it?

WENDELL POTTER: That we shouldn’t fear government involvement in our health care system. That there is an appropriate role for government, and it’s been proven in the countries that were in that movie.

You know, we have more people who are uninsured in this country than the entire population of Canada. And that if you include the people who are underinsured, more people than in the United Kingdom. We have huge numbers of people who are also just a lay-off away from joining the ranks of the uninsured, or being purged by their insurance company, and winding up there.

And another thing is that the advocates of reform or the opponents of reform are those who are saying that we need to be careful … because we don’t want the government to take away your choice of a health plan. It’s more likely that your employer and your insurer is going to switch you from a plan that you’re in now to one that you don’t want. You might be in the plan you like now.

But chances are, pretty soon, you’re going to be enrolled in one of these high deductible plans in which you’re going to find that much more of the cost is being shifted to you than you ever imagined.  …

BILL MOYERS: Why is public insurance, a public option, so fiercely opposed by the industry?

WENDELL POTTER: The industry doesn’t want to have any competitor. In fact, over the course of the last few years, has been shrinking the number of competitors through a lot of acquisitions and mergers. So first of all, they don’t want any more competition period. They certainly don’t want it from a government plan that might be operating more efficiently than they are…

BILL MOYERS: And they do what to make sure that they [remain profitable]?

WENDELL POTTER: Rescission is one thing. Denying claims is another. Being, you know, really careful as they review claims…

But another way is to purge employer accounts, that– if a small business has an employee, for example, who suddenly has have a lot of treatment, or is in an accident. And medical bills are piling up, and this employee is filing claims with the insurance company. That’ll be noticed by the insurance company.

And when that business is up for renewal, and it typically is up, once a year, up for renewal, the underwriters will look at that. And they’ll say, “We need to jack up the rates here…,” Often they’ll do this, knowing that the employer will have no alternative but to leave. And that happens all the time.

They’ll resort to things like … dumping, actually dumping employer groups from the rolls. So the more of my premium that goes to my health claims, pays for my medical coverage, the less money the company makes. …

BILL MOYERS: When a member of Congress asked the three executives who appeared before the committee– if they would end the practice of canceling policies for sick enrollees, they refused. Why did they refuse?

WENDELL POTTER: Well, they were talking to Wall Street at that moment. …

BILL MOYERS: This is the key question for me. Can health reform that includes a public plan actually rid our system of the financial incentive on the part of the insurance industry to provide less for more?

WENDELL POTTER: It will help. It would help. Would it rid it? No, I don’t think it would, because of the for-profit structure that is now dominant in this country. But the public plan would do a lot to keep them honest…

 A special place in hell indeed.

Original article

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