Readers of this column have heard of Wendell Potter before.
A former six-figure public relations executive for health insurance companies, he was the author of a highly acclaimed book back in 2010 called “Deadly Spin,” an exposé of how corporate America cleverly sets the public agenda by manipulating the news media, buying politicians and effectively misleading consumers.
As I said here 10 years ago, when you read this book you come to understand how it was that the big tobacco companies were able for years to discredit mountains of medical research that cigarettes cause cancer, and how today’s big conglomerates are able to convince millions of Americans and gullible politicians that the world’s scientific community is wrong about global warming.
“Deadly Spin” specifically described how the health insurance industry has been able to demonize any plan to improve health coverage for Americans, including Obamacare.
This industry is now relentlessly attacking Democratic presidential candidates’ proposals to improve the nation’s health system, mostly aimed at Bernie Sanders’ and Elizabeth Warren’s single-payer plans. But, it’s also attacking other candidates who have vowed to improve Obamacare by adding a public option.
“When the candidates discuss health care, you’re bound to hear some of them talk about consumer ‘choice.’ If the nation adopts systemic health reform, this idea goes, it would restrict the ability of Americans to choose their plans or doctors or have a say in their care,” he wrote.
“It’s a good talking point, in that it makes the idea of changing the current system sound scary and limiting,” he added. “The problem? It’s a PR concoction.”
What’s disheartening, Potter said, is that the industry has gotten some of the Democratic candidates to buy into it.
Right now, he declared, “somewhere in their plush corporate offices, some health care industry execs are probably beside themselves with glee, drinking a toast to their public relations triumph.”
He admits that when he was working for the industry he had a role in devising the deceptive talking point to his everlasting regret.
Research showed the health giants that the way to prevent significant reforms is for them to talk about “choice.”
“But those of us who held senior positions for the big insurers knew that one of the huge vulnerabilities of the system is its lack of choice,” he noted. “In the current system, Americans cannot, in fact, pick their own doctors, specialists or hospitals — at least without incurring huge ‘out of network’ bills.
“Not only does the current health care system deny you choice within the details of your plans, it also fails to provide many options for the plan itself. Most working Americans must select from a limited list made by their company’s chosen insurance provider (usually a high deductible plan or a higher deductible plan),” he continued. “What’s more, once that choice is made, there are many restrictions around keeping it. You can lose coverage if your company changes its plan, or if you change jobs, or if you turn 26, among many other scenarios.”
“My advice to voters is that if politicians tell you they oppose reforming the health care system because they want to preserve your ‘choice’ as a consumer, they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re willfully ignoring the truth. Either way, the insurance industry is delighted.”
And Potter knows what he’s talking about.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. [email protected], 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.
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