Wendell Potter, Health Care Reform Prophet

The following is a guest post and powerful testimonial from Wendell Potter concerning our broken health care industry. Wendell is a former insurance executive and the author of Deadly Spin, An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans. Wendell is a friend of mine with a sincere heart and a deeply held conviction to do what is right in the face of so much manipulative PR and propaganda.

Wendell Potter Goes to Church

by Wendell Potter, Author of Deadly Spin

It never occurred to me when I borrowed my dad’s car to drive to something called a “Health Care Expedition” a few years ago that I was about to embark on a spiritual journey. The road I set out on that day—to the county fairgrounds in Wise, Virginia, 50 miles north of my hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee—turned out to be my Road to Damascus. A few months later I would leave my job as a health insurance executive and eventually become a vocal critic of my former industry and a dedicated advocate of health care reform.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I got to Wise County and walked through the fairground gates. I felt as if I had stepped into a movie set or a refugee camp in some war-torn third-world country. Hundreds of people, many of them soaking wet from the rain that had been falling all morning, were waiting in lines that stretched out of view. As I walked around, I noticed that some of those lines led to barns and cinder block buildings with row after row of animal stalls, where doctors and nurses, all of whom were volunteering their time, were treating patients. How was it possible that I was still in the United States of America, the country that I tried for years to make people believe had the best health care system on the planet?

As I took in the scene that day, I realized that the folks in those long lines could have been my relatives or my parents’ neighbors. They were people with whom I shared cultural roots but who, for whatever reason, simply hadn’t had the good fortune to land a high-paying job and a cushy office in one of the tallest buildings in Philadelphia. That was an epiphany—as was the realization that what I had been doing for a living as a top industry PR executive had at least in part made it necessary for those people to resort to getting care in animal stalls. I was part of an ongoing effort to obscure the reality that the U.S. health care system was failing more and more Americans every day and would soon fail all but the wealthiest of us if we didn’t take action to reform it.

Many of the 4,000 people who were treated over the three days of the expedition were people who had tried to buy insurance but had been turned down repeatedly because of “preexisting conditions.” Most of them had jobs but worked for companies that could no longer afford to offer coverage to their employees. And hundreds of them actually had insurance, but their benefits were so limited or their deductibles were so high that they couldn’t afford to go to the doctor or pick up their prescriptions.

I found out later that the expedition at Wise County was just one of many around the country, and not just in remote locations. Some of the biggest ones have been in major American cities like Chicago and Los Angeles.

After I left my job, I began speaking out about how special interests, especially for-profit insurance companies, had taken over our health care system and what the consequences of that corporate takeover—that Wall Street takeover—have been for average working families. As I testified before several Congressional committees while health care reform was being debated, I saw firsthand how insurers dump the sick, how they refuse to sell coverage to people who need it most, and how they systematically cheat both doctors and their patients out of billions of dollars—all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors.

I have also explained how insurers and other moneyed interests tried to kill reform and how they are hard at work right now, in concert with their business and political allies, not only to gut the provisions of the reform law that are most important to consumers, but to hand over both the Medicare and Medicaid programs to big for-profit corporations like the ones I used to work for.

Why? Because the greedy investors who own those corporations don’t like the consumer protections in the law that might keep them from making so much money off of us. They don’t like it that the law sets limits on how much of the cost of medical care insurers can shift to us. They don’t like it that insurers have to spend at least 80 percent of the premiums we pay them on our care. They don’t like insurers being told that young people who can’t find jobs with benefits can stay on their parents’ policies until they turn 26. They don’t like it that insurers won’t be able to charge people in their 50s so much more than other folks that many of them can no longer afford insurance. And they don’t like it that Congress finally outlawed some of the industry’s most anti-consumer practices, like dumping sick policyholders and refusing to sell coverage to people with preexisting conditions.

What corporate executives and Wall Street investors do like, of course, are the proposals by their friends in Washington that would let them get their hands on Medicare and Medicaid. Take it from me: privatizing those programs would enable a few people to get much richer while the rest of us would see our taxes go up and our benefits go down.

I’m blessed to be able to say that my spiritual journey as a truth-teller is now taking me into congregations all across our wonderful nation. Thanks to PICO National Network and dozens of local faith-based organizations, I will be explaining in places of worship from coast to coast what the new health care reform law actually does and how it already is benefitting millions of Americans. I’m sure that will come as a surprise to many people who, unfortunately, have fallen for the spin—the deadly spin—that can be traced back to the big corporations and their political friends who are hell-bent on destroying the parts of the law that are most important to consumers.

We must not let them succeed. Too much is at stake, not just for us but also for our children and grandchildren and generations to come.

(Former insurance executive Wendell Potter, author of Deadly Spin, An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans, will begin his tour of congregations on Thursday, March 29 in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  Read more at WendellPotter.com)


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