Guernica: So in other words, corporate bureaucrats have a profit incentive to deny care to people who are enrolled in their plans.
Wendell Potter: Absolutely. It doesn’t have to be stated directly to them that you will be paid a particular bonus if you deny X number of claims; it’s known, and it’s part of the culture.
Guernica: What about the long wait times we’re warned about, and that government-run healthcare would be one step on the path to socialism? Is there any legitimacy to these claims?
Wendell Potter: No. In fact, we can look at the wait times in this country as more horrific than anything you’ll see in the Canadian system, for example. For elective procedures in many of these countries, yes, you might wait longer for some elective procedure. You might wait longer for an MRI than you would in this country because, on a per capita basis, there are often more machines here than in some of those other systems. But life expectancy in almost every one of these other countries is greater than ours. People do not have to wait long for urgent or necessary care. In fact, in many countries it’s more likely that you would be able to get a same-day appointment with a doctor than here.
Guernica: How do you know?
Wendell Potter: I’ve traveled abroad a lot and I’ve studied them. I’ve been a student of statistics of these other systems, so I do know this, and yes, I have been there.
Guernica: Then there are the Blue Dog Democrats and their role in holding up legislation. What’s their motivation?
Wendell Potter: The industry has contributed so heavily to the Republicans over the years that they are pretty much assured that every single Republican in Congress will vote exactly the way they want on any issue pertaining to healthcare. This has not occurred just with campaign contributions. It’s also ideology. The industry has been very determined to carve out its niche on the right side of the political spectrum and, along with the business community, be advocates of a free-market approach to any aspect of our economy—and make sure that there is minimal regulation of any economic sector. So there is a great ideological kinship between the insurance industry and the Republican Party. And this is close to the ideology of the Blue Dog Democrats, who tend to be in border states of the south or where there are more Republicans. Industry has been feeding the Blue Dogs talking points and working overtime to make sure they see things from their philosophical and business perspectives.
Wendell Potter: The reason I started speaking out is I knew the insurance industry would come out with guns blazing to kill reform. I knew the tactics they’d be using and buzzwords they’d be repeating—especially through their shills in Congress, media and business. It’s the same old playbook. I know it because I essentially helped write it. I knew that when the time came, they’d be unleashing that crap.
Guernica: But what about programs like Medicare and the Veteran’s Administration? These are large, extremely effective, government-run programs that have been around a long time, despite the slippery slope rhetoric.
Wendell Potter: The health insurance industry knows this. That is why they’re so careful with language. Medicare is far more popular than almost any private health insurance program in the country. And people in other programs you mentioned are certainly very grateful. But many of them don’t know that it’s a public program.
Guernica: This is an industry that allows people to die so it can increase profits. I would think that it would be difficult to respect people who remain in that industry.
Guernica: Let’s talk about these contentious town hall meetings. What role, if any, does the industry play in causing the disruptive, or what Senator Claire McCaskill called “rude” behavior?
Wendell Potter: One of the big PR firms [for] the insurance industry is APCOWorldwide. They’ve represented the industry for quite a long time. They’re skilled at setting up front groups to spread disinformation to challenge proposals. So they will get talking points into the hands of conservative radio talk show hosts and editorial writers at conservative publications. It all comes from the health insurance industry, but they spread this stuff in such a way that their fingerprints are not directly on it. A guy named Bill Pierce works for APCO; he is an executive there. He used to work as a spokesman for Blue Cross Blue Shield and the Bush Administration. So if you called the number for Healthcare America, you would be connected with Bill Pierce’s office atAPCO... The tragic thing about these town hall meetings is how some of these angry citizens are being manipulated. When you see these stories about the meetings and how the participants are so concerned about government takeover of our healthcare system, they use the very words that were fed to them by the health insurance industry, not realizing that that’s where they came from, not realizing that they are unwitting pawns of the industry. Because they hear that stuff from people they believe are credible, like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck.
Wendell Potter: I am very aware of the efforts the industry goes to to bus people to Washington. It’s one of the most sophisticated grass-roots operations you will find in any industry. They have a long list of senior citizens, for example, who are enrolled in the Medicare Advantage plan. Insurance companies will pay for these people to fly to Washington for a day of citizen lobbying. [The senior citizens] will give the impression that they are there speaking on their own, but it’s completely orchestrated by the industry. What these seniors don’t know is that the only way they would lose their Medicare HMO is if the insurance company dumps them because they don’t think they’re profitable enough anymore. That happened back in the nineties, Cigna did it, Aetna did it—all the insurance companies that participated in the Medicare HMOprogram did it. That’s when Congress reduced the reimbursements a little bit, these big insurance companies dumped seniors by the millions...
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Labels: Congress's Masters