Bill Moyers Journal Features CMD's Wendell Potter

Wendell Potter and Bill Moyers

Wendell Potter, the Center for Media and Democracy's Senior Fellow on Health Care, was interviewed for most of an hour by Bill Moyers on his Journal program Friday, July 10th.

Wendell Potter spent more than 20 years as a public relations executive for two large health insurers - Cigna and Humana - but left the industry after witnessing practices he felt harmed American health care consumers. In his own words:

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I am speaking out about how big for-profit insurers have hijacked our health care system and turned it into a giant ATM for Wall Street investors, and how the industry is using its massive wealth and influence to determine what is (and is not) included in the health care reform legislation members of Congress are now writing. I was in a unique position to see not only how Wall Street analysts and investors influence decisions insurance company executives make but also how the industry has carried out behind-the-scenes PR and lobbying campaigns to kill or weaken any health care reform efforts that threatened insurers' profitability.

Wendell first went public as an advocate for health care reform as the lead witness at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on June 24 and has since attracted significant and continuing news media attention.

Comments

One thing that few people understand is that most quality health insurance carriers pay 80% to 90% of premium dollars out in benefits. Most insurers are in a competitive environment and know that higher prices mean fewer new clients. Health care costs are rising and insurance premiums rise along with them. If there is a drought in an area where banana are grown, we don't blame the grocer for the high price. Insurers are certainly not always right, but if the reason for the increased premiums were excess profits the market would fix the problem. Health insurance companies that only operate in certain states would come into other states and offer lower premiums and "fix the problem." It has happened with the phone companies and with computers and many other goods and services. When the profits got high enough competition came into the market.

<blockquote>"One thing that few people understand is that most quality health insurance carriers pay 80% to 90% of premium dollars out in benefits."</blockquote> What more and more people are coming to understand is that 10 - 20 percent of premiums paid out for dividends, executive salaries and perks, and advertising and PR, not to mention lobbying our government maintain the status quo, is just too much. <blockquote>...but if the reason for the increased premiums were excess profits the market would fix the problem. Health insurance companies that only operate in certain states would come into other states and offer lower premiums and "fix the problem."</blockquote> Oh, right. Actually, long experience shows that "competing" companies would much rather divvy up markets and fix prices than engage in real competition, which is why we have anti-trust law. Are the for-profit insurers willing to give up their current anti-trust exemptions? <blockquote>It has happened with the phone companies and with computers and many other goods and services. When the profits got high enough competition came into the market. </blockquote> Yeah. The trick, though, is not to get sick or injured while you wait for that hoped-for principle to kick in, or bankrupted in the process of making the profits high enough. Selling iPods belongs in the for-profit sector. Health insurance does not.

Dear Mr. Potter, First, I would like to congratulate you on speaking out against the corruption of the health insurance companies. I am a strong supporter of the health care bill, and I recently watched your interview on Bill Moyers’ Journal about these corporations. After viewing the show, I saw your courage and honesty as a sign of hope in the effort for health care reform. I admire your integrity, because I would have found it difficult to speak out if I were in your position. Your inside knowledge of the issue was refreshing, and I felt that your breakdown of the system was eye opening and instrumental in helping me understand the background and motives of the insurance companies. I couldn’t agree more with your analysis, but I found it shocking the measures the health care industry would take to gain more profit, even if it meant rejecting or letting go of policy holders. In addition, I found your rebuttal to those opposed to the reform bill to be well argued and supported by strong evidence. Although I espouse the capitalist system, it is imperative that people understand that health insurance cannot be dealt in such a manner. It seems that many who see the reform as dangerous to America’s free market economy fail to realize that the health care industry is unique in that it deals with the lives of people, not products. However, the companies treat their policyholders as such - not as human beings, but as numbers in a statistic. Your insight into the hypocrisy and scare tactics of the insurance companies was illuminating, but I still fail to grasp that many Americans, in ignorance, fall for these traps and criticize the “socialism” of a government-run health care policy. Though I felt that the interview was eye opening, I believe that many Americans are unaware of the problems you addressed. I find myself berated each day for my support of the bill, and am shocked that the arguments I often face have been outlined and rebuked in your interview. I encourage you to continue in your efforts to spread your knowledge, and hope that you are successful in your effort. Best regards, Matthew Chan Stuart Hall High School '11

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