Interview: Whistle-blower Wendell Potter On Why Our Health Care System Is Sick

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Wendell Potter portrait
Wendell Potter has a bone to pick with the health insurance industry.

Wendell Potter has good news and bad news. The bad news, according to him, is that health care in America is sick. Life expectancy and infant mortality rates here are lower than in some Third World countries. People die because they can’t get insurance – upwards of 45,000 a year.

And for a while, Potter was part of the machinery that made things so bad.

In his two decades as a PR executive, Potter worked for two of the biggest for-profit health insurance companies in America – Human and CIGNA. During his career, Potter admits to doing things like feeding misleading information to reporters and writing talking points for CEOs and politicians in case they got ambushed by Michael Moore on their doorsteps in the morning.

In protecting his employers’ reputations, he helped them remain profitable. That would be fine, except, he argues, the system is corrupt.

Free Author Event: Wendell Potter discusses Deadly Spin at the Central Library on Wednesday, Jan. 11, at 6:30 p.m. RSVP now.

“If you are among those who believe that the United States has ‘the best health care system in the world’ despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary,” writes Potter in a new book, “it’s because my fellow spinmeisters and I succeeded brilliantly at what we were paid very well to do with your premium dollars.”

In other words, if you didn’t know things were so bad, it’s because Potter and his colleagues were good at their job.

Now, are you ready for the good news?

Potter is now on your side.

In Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans, Potter exposes the “dirty tricks” of the industry that once provided his livelihood. He now wants to right the wrongs that he feels he committed as a health insurance PR exec by providing us with better information to understand how our health care system needs to be reformed.

The Whistle-Blower

On Wednesday, January 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library (14 W. 10th St.), Potter will talk about why he quit his job at CIGNA in 2008 and began speaking out against the health insurance industry.

In a phone interview earlier this week, Potter told us that when he left his job, he never intended to go public with his criticism. But, he found, there was demand for his unique perspective.

“When I left my job, I just wanted to take some time off and decide what I wanted to do next,” he said from his home in Philadelphia. “It didn’t cross my mind I’d have the guts to speak out in such a public way for the industry I worked in for so long. I thought I would do PR work helping socially responsible organizations achieve their communication goals.”

However, after testifying before the Senate Commerce, Science and Technology Committee in June of 2009, Potter began getting interview requests from the media, along with interest from agents and publishers, and soon Deadly Spin was born.

Watch a video of Potter’s testimony:

The timing was right. In March 2010, President Obama, signed into law the Affordable Care Act, which though far from perfect, is a start, Potter contends.

“People have in many cases forgotten how health care reform is so urgently needed,” Potter said. “We’ve had many months of political rhetoric, much of it based on information that isn’t true, and it has obscured the reasons for reform in first place.”

Deadly Spin

In his measured, fact-laden treatise, Potter argues that the health insurance industry is dominated by for-profit corporations that care far more about the bottom line than keeping people healthy.

In repeated, compelling arguments, he tells why insurers have more to gain by keeping their customers unhealthy – that is, by refusing to insure the sickest and, for them, costliest.

“I think people have the misimpression that healthcare is available to us whenever we get sick, regardless of our income and insurance status,” Potter told us. “People who have insurance don’t understand how close they are to being pushed into the ranks of the uninsured.”

When Potter visits the Central Library on January 11, he’ll explain how we can be proactive in bringing about health care reform, the pluses and minuses of the Affordable Care Act, and the ways in which special interest groups mislead the public.

“I’ll be there to set the record straight and tell the truth in ways people haven’t heard before,” Potter says.

Potter’s presentation on the 11th is free. To attend RSVP online.


Got questions for Wendell Potter? Post them on our Facebook Page or tweet them to us @KCLibrary on Twitter, and we'll ask him when he visits the Library.

About the Author

Jason Harper is the web content developer and social media manager at the Kansas City Public Library.
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