Posted by Wendell Potter on July 03, 2009

One of the things I hope to do with my post is to call out misleading statements and statistics, outright lies and illogical assertions by opponents of meaningful health care reform—and to rat out the front groups that insurers and other special interests are funding to kill reform or, failing that, shape it to their benefit.

I'm starting with a biggie, conservative author and columnist George Will, who suggests in his June 28 column in The Washington Post that, because of the complexity and expense of reforming the American health care system, maybe we would be better off just leaving well enough alone.

Well enough? For him, maybe. He's got a great gig at the Post and as a TV network pundit, and he has sold lots of books, so he probably doesn't have to worry, as most other Americans do, about being just one layoff away from joining the 50 million other men, women and children in the ranks of the uninsured. And even if the Post gave him a pink slip this afternoon, chances are he has stashed enough away that he can afford to shell out the nearly $13,000 that the average annual premium for decent family coverage costs these days (and that was in 2007).

The median household income in this country is just about $50,000. I'm betting it has been a few years since Will faced paying more than a fourth of his family's annual income—before taxes—just to cover the health insurance premiums. More and more of us also face paying thousands more of our hard-earned dollars in out-of-pocket expenses before the coverage we pay so dearly for actually kicks in. If Will and other critics of real reform just did a little simple math, they would understand why the number of people without insurance is so high and growing so rapidly, and why at least 25 million more of us are now under-insured.

After telling us we might live to regret trying to reform our dysfunctional non-system, Will makes this assertion:

"Most Americans do want different health care: They want 2009 medicine at 1960 prices."

Yeah, that would be nice, and it sure makes for a great quip, but no one I know expects that. Maybe he knows "most Americans" better than I do, but I doubt it. Instead, I suspect he sees the world in much the same way insurance company executives see it from their spacious offices, the windows of their chauffeur-driven limos and the corporate jets that fly them comfortably over "most Americans." When you're at that altitude, it's hard to get a real fix on what most Americans want, much less what so many of them so desperately need.

To be fair and perfectly honest, I saw the world that way too for most of the 20 years I worked inside the insurance industry. The more money I made and the more perks I was given, the less I thought about the hardships many people face who are not as privileged. It took seeing thousands of people standing in the rain in long lines to get care in a barn just a few miles from where I grew up to finally get it.

It is true, as Will notes, that many Americans enrolled in employer-sponsored health insurance plans have been able to rely on their employers to pay the lion's share of the premiums. What is also true, but not mentioned in his column, is that fewer and fewer Americans can get coverage through their employers these days, and that of those who can, most are now having to pay a larger share of the premiums and much higher out-of-pocket expenses.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal story, the number of small employers offering coverage has dropped from 61 percent to 38 percent since 1993. And the way insurers and employers are dealing with medical inflation is to shift more of the financial burden onto the shoulders of working men and women.

Insurers and their ideological allies, like Grace Marie Turner of the Galen Institute and Betsy McCauaghey of the Hudson Institute, both of whom Will cites as experts in his column and both of whose organizations are corporate funded, say this is a good thing because, they contend, Americans have been insulated for far too long from the real costs of health care.

That's easy for someone to say who has never had to file for bankruptcy, as millions of Americans have, because the insurance coverage they were counting on didn't come close to covering their medical bills when they got sick or had an accident. And it's easy for a rich, famous and out-of-touch columnist to callously content that all Americans really want is 2009 medicine at 1960 prices, so let's just call the whole thing off.


Wendell Potter is the Senior Fellow on Health Care for the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin.

Comments

I think we need health care changes...

Such as? I'd be interested to hear some specifics.

...[A]nd now sees he can make a lot more as a whistle blower.

So, who's going to pay him all that dough? Who, but the industry he left, can afford to? CMD for one isn't exactly rolling in it.

Here's the exact quote, which comes in the first paragraph incidentally, a fact that strongly suggests you were depending on the gullible not to check your own veracity....which is of course, lacking.

"In the beginning," says a character in a Peter De Vries novel, "the earth was without form and void. Why didn't they leave well enough alone?" When Washington is finished improving health care, Americans may be asking the same thing."
George F. Will - A Regrettable 'Fix' on Health Care - washingtonpost.com (4 August 2009)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/26/AR2009062603457.html
http://tinyurl.com/nnujrj

I really enjoyed watching your interview with Bill Moyers. Sounds like you had a real life changing experience near where you grew up. Now that you're retired and I'm sure, very well off financially, you are doing the right thing and speaking truth to power. I hope that you have maintained some strong "connections" within the health care insurance industry so that you can continue to give us the inside scoop on what they are up to in order to scuttle REAL reform in health care, preferably with a single-payer system. No legislator should settle for anything less than a very robust public option. Great idea to poke George Will here. He should stick to writing about baseball. He IS out of touch with everyday Americans.

1. One question everyone should be asking: Do I want a bureaucrat who is paid based on an increase of medial care provided to determine whether or not I get cared for or do I want a bureaucrat who is paid based on the number of claims denied to determine whether or not I get medial care? Right now, we have the latter.

We should accept that SOMEONE other than ourselves and our doctor will always oversee a medical care program. Stating that a "bureaucrat" will be in charge of our health care is like saying "the sky is blue."

2. Every commentator, pundit, columnist who wants to write about healthcare issues should disclose the following:
- Who is your health insurance company?
- Who is paying for your policy?
- What is your annual contribution?
- What is your annual deductible?
- Can this policy be revoked due to a particular illness or accident?

Then, the reader or listener can determine for him/herself how credible the person is.

More health care opinions: http://www.dogwalkblog.com/2009/06/24/insurance-disclosures/

My response to the supposed Health Care debate (which leaves out single-payer views): http://seaclearly.wordpress.com/2009/06/19/health-care-solved-are-you-poor-sorry

Mr. Potter,
I appreciate your argument about George Will's column, but encourage you to be more careful about your own claims, especially given your desire to "call out misleading statements and statistics." You write "chances are [Mr. Will] has stashed enough away that he can afford to shell out the nearly $13,000 that the average annual premium for decent family coverage costs these days... The median household income in this country is just about $50,000. I’m betting it has been a few years since Will faced paying more than a fourth of his family’s annual income—before taxes—just to cover the health insurance premiums." But the dollar amounts that you're comparing come from groups that aren't directly comparable. The "average annual premium" you reference is not an average across all families; it is for a family of four. In contrast, the mean household size is 3. I'm guessing that the "average" annual premium is a mean, not a median, and while I don't expect that the mean and median health insurance costs vary as much as the mean and median incomes, it's still not clear to me that it's appropriate to compare a mean cost with a median income. You also shift from families (for the premium cost) to households (for income); families and households are not equivalent, as the members of a household need not be related. I agree with your overall argument; I just think that you need to be more careful about these category shifts -- if you're sloppy about this, you're telling Mr. Will and others that it's OK for them to be sloppy too. And of course for some people, it may not be sloppiness; it may be a purposeful decision to mislead people by shifting among non-interchangeable categories while glossing over the fact that the categories aren't interchangeable. Thanks for your work. I was glad to see your interview with Bill Moyers, which is what lead me here. We need more people to join you in speaking out.

Mr. Potter,
I appreciate your argument about George Will's column, but I encourage you to be more careful in your own claims, especially given your desire to "call out misleading statements and statistics." You write "chances are [Mr. Will] has stashed enough away that he can afford to shell out the nearly $13,000 that the average annual premium for decent family coverage costs these days... The median household income in this country is just about $50,000. I’m betting it has been a few years since Will faced paying more than a fourth of his family’s annual income—before taxes—just to cover the health insurance premiums." But the dollar amounts that you're comparing come from groups that aren't comparable. The "average annual premium" you reference is not an average across all families; it is for a family of four, and median income households are more likely to only have three people in them. I'm also guessing that the "average" annual premium is a mean, not a median, and while I don't expect that the mean and median health insurance costs vary as much as the mean and median incomes, it's still not clear to me that it's appropriate to compare a mean cost with a median income. You also shift from families (for the premium cost) to households (for income); families and households are not equivalent, as the members of a household need not be related. I agree with your overall argument, and the general thrust should still be true if you use more accurate comparisons (although probably a bit less dramatic). If you're sloppy about these kinds of category shifts, though, you're telling Mr. Will and others that it's OK for them to be sloppy too. And of course for some people, it may not be sloppiness; it may be a purposeful decision to mislead others by shifting among non-interchangeable categories while glossing over the fact that the categories aren't interchangeable. Thanks for your work. I was glad to see your interview with Bill Moyers, which is what lead me here. We need more people to join you in speaking out.

We need reform when there are so many people who can't afford reasonable health care, and insurance is largely a racket business. I am concerned about WHAT kind of reform we will have, because it isn't fair to make the public pay through the nose for the health care of people who choose to smoke, eat excessively, get unnecessary abortions, and many other lifestyle choices that result in high health care expenses.

...people who choose to smoke...

You mean people who got sucked in by tobacco company marketing and peer pressure as kids and then found themselves hooked as adults, just as the tobacco companies intended? If we had a government-run single payer system, the government could simply bill the tobacco companies annually for the money it spent on care for tobacco-related illnesses, plus a suitable multiple of those companies' marketing budgets. That would be a more humane and more just solution, and one that would help more to get rid of smoking altogether, than simply withholding coverage from smokers.

...get unnecessary abortions...

Who'll pass judgment on which abortions are "unnecessary," some committee of James Dobson clones? You'd better hope not, unless you as a taxpayer are willing to foot the bill for the many times larger social services costs the unwilling and likely unprepared mother will require for years to come. Oh, and you might want to stop covering Viagra but not contraception as well.

Glad that a former insider has entered the fray. It doesn't matter when you, Wendell, saw the light, but that you did and are willing to share your perspective in a very public way.
Why can't we re-frame the criterion for change. Now, it's all about cost and minimizing profit (only for those on our side). But it is essential to dare the disbelievers to call up that nationalistic fervor over Americans as compassionate and caring (a powerful myth that is probably now only rarely true). Your experience at the "expedition" made the U.S. appear like a 3rd world country. We can be no better as a nation than how we treat the poorest among us. Wonder if the pundits could gravitate toward the bumper sticker-length mantra that "We Owe Health Care to Our Fellow Americans"? We need to counter divisive slogans with other ones.
"Socialized" programs for society are no more threatening compassion for the sick and helpless. And we are all helpless thanks to the insurance industry's grip on access to health care providers.

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