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:

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.


Saying that insurers use the same tactics as "tobacco" firms is a touch off-target. Top for profit insurers ARE the cigarette industry in that they own billions of dollars of holdings in top cigarette manufacturers...and, for good measure, in manufacturers of tobacco pesticides. This goes far to explain why such insurers use the cigarette makers' deceptive name for themselves---"Tobacco companies" if they just provide some traditionally-used natural plant product. Such insurers, and complicit chemical firms involved with the pesticides and chlorine contamination of typical cigarettes, and their allies in government and media, are understandably loath to call cigarette makers "the Pesticide-Contaminated, Chlorine-contaminated, Dioxin-delivering, Radiation-delivering Cigarette Industry". (Rads come from certain fertilizers.) To do so would be a long overdue disaster for the insurers and the chemical and fertilizer cartels. If Wendell Potter touched on this scandalous angle, Big Insurance may well have already been packing its bags...making way for Single Payer.

I'm ready for something drastic to be done. Was on the phone with my health insurance provider today for two medical incidents. The first was a bill that they didn't pay because "The doctor is in network but the facility he used wasn't" .. ??? And the other was an emergency room visit to a hospital that was in network but the doctor who saw us was out of network. This is a PPO plan that we pay about $950 a month for. Makes me sick.

How do you start a boycott ?? Don't buy health insurance anymore. Tell your fellow coworkers not to buy, your friends, family, etc. Have a meeting (party) at your house and get everyones attention and tell them. Then all them can do the same thing. We the people need to STOP being complacent and do something. I plan on doing this...lets see how far we can go !!

Mr. Potter is still operating inside his bubble. Why do we need health insurance at all? OK for major medical/catastrophic, but for every dr visit? Perhaps expenses will fall if in fact the system truly reverts to a doctor and his/her patient. Introducing gov't control isn't the answer. Let's simplify and maybe we can afford a simple visit to the doctor. Start thinking originally instead of looking at the flip side of the same coin.

If you're serious about boycotting, I'm considering trying to set up a web site dedicated to this idea. I have some friends who are interested in this concept, and they'd like the opportunity to talk with like minded individuals about the economics of this, financial strategies for handling health care costs without insurance, and so forth. Send me an email and let me know if you and anyone you know would be interested in joining. I'm trying to find at least 20 people who have done this before setting up the site, since I think you need a community to have a site. email me at

My brother was fired from IBM after 18 years of employment (age discrimination). Not only did he lose a career but also his health insurance. He simply could not afford to seek medical service when he experienced unexplained rapid weight loss. Finally, he sought help at a local free health clinic, but by then the renal cell carcinoma had metastasized throughout his body. He died only a few months later after diagnosis. no insurance + no health care = late diagnosis and early death

Reform is needed and I'm sure it will be come. But I truly believe we need to start from scratch and start increasing the utilization of HSAs. Throw in some tax credits and increase state pools for high risk persons.

Many thanks to Mr. Wendell Potter for stepping up in this "period of moral crisis" where our health care is being held hostage by a Goliath beholden to profit at the expense of their own customers. That their product is "health insurance coverage" is incidental and misleading (if not outright corrupt). Big health insurance's self-stated chief business objective is to be profitable. To pay themselves and their investors. Period. Their business model for accomplishing this is to to provide as little actual "health insurance coverage" to their customers (to Americans) as possible. Clearly health care reform needs all the truth tellers it can get because health insurers are not at all morally conflicted. Competition from a STRONG public option is the only way insurers will operate more cost-effectively and fairly.

Ask "who profits most from current health care proposals and from a public option?" The answer is clearly big corporations and not the public. Why is a venal, employee-abusive company like Wal-Mart is so actively supporting the measure? It is only to serve themselves. Wendell Potter "speaks out" about an industry that makes about 3% profit on the health care part of insurance. Potter was just a communications executive and, like most of them, really doesn't know what he is talking about. Potter says that insurers' expense management and purging actions resulted in collective medical-loss ratios of the seven largest for-profit insurers falling from an average of 85.3 percent in 1998 to 81.6 percent in 2008 and "that translates into a difference of several billion dollars in favor of insurance company shareholders and executives." Potter cites that Pricewaterhouse result and assumes the cause - but a far more likely cause is the fact that "44% of workers with health benefits were covered by self-insured plans in 1999. That percentage had risen to 55% in 2007." In other words, insurance companies no longer had that risk and expense, thus improving their medical-loss ratios. Businesses funded their own plans. 86% of companies larger than 5,000 employees have become self-insured as have 76% of those with 1,000-4,999 employees. Companies like mine jumped on the bandwagon to reduce healthcare costs because 1) states all had different regulations to follow, and self-funded companies could simply abide by ERISA and 2) businesses saved all the state taxes of 2-6% that insurance companies have to pay on premiums. What do big corporations get? With a public option, private options will fade away. Users will opt for the public option to save a few bucks on their share of premiums, not realizing what they are giving up in the long run. The costs paid by the big corporations will drop dramatically and their risk and liability as self-insurers disappears. What does the consumer get with a public option? Look at Medicare - it means unilateral (and often unreasonably) reduced payments to providers. Users have to buy Medigap insurance to cover at least part of the difference between what this public option pays and the care they need. The rest comes out of their pocket or they go without. Users receive less of the care their doctor says is necessary. As examples, when I was ill, I was sometimes mistaken for a Medicare patient. When my doctor said I needed my two deep wounds monitored, cleansed and treated daily by a home nurse for a couple of months, I was told Medicare would cover a few visits and then, "You have to find someone else to do it for you." I was also told Medicare covered only 20 colostomy bags a month and I would have to wash them out and reuse them. Fortunately, our actual insurance covered what I needed. Yes, health care definitely needs reform in terms of efficiencies and, most likely, in prohibiting things like hip replacements for octogenarians on the brink of death from cancer. Yes, there should be reasonable options for those with pre-existing conditions and some sort of portability...but none of those fixes requires a "public option." But no one is discussing that kind of improvement first. Instead, the public will lose out once again while the big-buck corporations profit thanks to their generous funding of both Democrats and Republicans. Beginning t age 65, mandatory end-of-life discussions are incorporated for patients (HR 3200 section 1233) Committees decide on "the most effective treatments" and all medical records must be filed with the government by 2014. In business, if you unilaterally drop prices before you eliminate waste and fix the processes, then you lose money and go bankrupt, especially if you keep spending money you don't have. You have to fix the costs first. The Feds fail to do that....which is why they have programs that are never fixed and keep going bankrupt...