Friday, July 17, 2009

Blowing the Whistle on the U.S. Health Insurance Industry

There's an extraordinary interview with former CIGNA executive Wendell Potter on 'Democracy Now!' this week. Potter spent twenty years working for the health care industry, and up until a few months ago was the chief spokesperson and PR pointman for health insurance giant CIGNA. He even developed and launched the industry's counterattack against Michael Moore and his documentary, 'Sicko'.

But when Potter saw his industry using the same talking points and scare tactics against President Obama's health care plan that they had used to destroy Hillary Clinton's efforts at reform back in the '90s, he knew he couldn't do it any more.

The interview is a fascinating look at the tactics used by the U.S. for-profit insurance industry to discredit anyone who would suggest having a public health care system - even a watered-down, parallel system to their own. And a single-payer system like we have here? That, according to Potter, is the industry's worst nightmare.

Well, the game plan is based on scare tactics. And, of course, the thing they fear most is that the country will at some point gravitate toward a single-payer plan. That’s the ultimate fear that they have. But currently—and they know that right now that is not something that’s on the legislative table. And they’ve been very successful in making sure that it isn’t. They fear even the public insurance option that’s being proposed, that was part of President Obama’s campaign platform, his healthcare platform. And they’ll pull out all the stops they can to defeat that.

Towards the end of the interview, Potter does a fair job of explaining Canada's health care system to an American audience used to having the bejeesus scared out of them about the evils of Canadian socialism ("Do you want a Government bureaucrat standing between you and your doctor?"). That fear has been generated largely by third-party ads using people like Dr. Brian Day, who has his own reasons for promoting private health care.

Happily, people like Wendell Potter are pulling back the curtain and exposing the health care industry's use of the same sorts of lies and PR tactics the tobacco industry used so effectively for so long. It's a long interview but well worth listening to and/or reading in full. Especially if we start seeing those same tactics being deployed here in Canada.

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