Health Care Whistleblower at UMN TODAY

Grace Gouker

Former CIGNA spokesman Wendell Potter, who recently released the book Deadly Spin, will be speaking at the University of Minnesota Bookstore at 4 p.m. today. Though his story will appear in the Daily tomorrow, here are a few excerpts from the interview:


GG: Close to 200,000 Americans die each year from prescription drugs. Does that number surprise you, and how many people would you say die each year due to the inadequacy of the health care system apart from this ? 

WP: It doesn’t surprise me, because I think the pharmaceutical industry is inadequately regulated in this country, and it’s able to advertise drugs on TV. And people want drugs to be advertised on TV, and sometimes they may even take them inappropriately, or they’re prescribed inappropriately, or people get them in illegal ways and that kills them. So that’s not surprising, I’d say that probably is true. A statistic that I’ve heard is that 45,000 people die because they don’t have insurance. In other words, if they don’t have insurance they don’t have access to quality care that they can afford. So they forgo care. They don’t go to the doctor as much as they should, and their lives end, prematurely. 

GG:The future of Obama’s Health Care Reform Bill is kind of hanging in the balance right now what with the new Republican majority in Congress and their desire to repeal the bill (though it would likely only be repealed by Congress and not by the Senate or the President) or else drastically change it. How do you feel about this potentiality ?

WP: Well, it’s not going to go anywhere. It’s going to be a big show. The House will vote on it and pass the bill to repeal it, but it’s political theater. In the Senate ride, it will probably not even get out of committee, because Democrats still control the Senate. And even if, by some chance, it did pass both the House and the Senate, I’m sure the President would veto it, and it would not be sustained. It’s a smokescreen, also. The leaders in Congress know it’s not going to go anywhere, so they’re staging this to set aside the people that they fooled into thinking that this is a government takeover of the healthcare system. And they fooled them into voting for them on that basis, in many cases. So they fulfill the obligation to gut the emotions of doing this, and I’m sure they’ll fool those people once again. I sound pretty cynical, but that’s just the way it is. What is really going on is that the insurance industry is working behind the scenes with these guys, these new members of Congress, to tell them what they don’t like about the legislation that are consumer protections—that are good for Americans—but that the insurance companies don’t like, because it might require them to spend more money providing coverage for us. So they’re working behind the scenes to try to get Congress to strip out some of the new regulations on the industry, and the consumer protections. And that’s regrettably what’s really going on, and I don’t think most Americans really have an understanding of that. I used to cover Congress as a reporter, so I know how it works. And of course I worked in the insurance industry, so I know how they work. 

GG: How do you think the Bill substantially helped the health insurance industry?

WP: Well, it helps them a great deal, in that the health insurance industry had two objectives : they wanted to make sure that there was an individual mandate in the bill, in other words they wanted to have the requirement that all of us buy insurance from them, that was their number one objective. They were actually in favor of reform this time ; in years passed they’d wanted to kill it outright. But their business models are not sustainable. They need to have this individual mandate to get new customers. Their products are becoming to hold such little value in many cases that more and more people are not buying their products, or they can’t afford them, because they’re overpriced. 


For more info on Potter’s book, and to ask him about his experience in the industry, stop and pay him a visit this eve. His candid and horrifying stories about his company–and health insurance on the whole–won’t surprise you, most likely, but at least he’ll give you an insider’s affirmation.