August 14th, 2009
04:41 PM ET

Whistle-blower: Health care industry engaging in PR tactics

[cnn-photo-caption image="http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/08/12/health.industry.whistleblower/art.potter.2.cnn.jpg" caption="Wendell Potter once was a vice president in the public relations department for insurance giant Cigna."]

Ed Hornick and Elaine Quijano

Wendell Potter knows a little something about the health care industry's practices and is not afraid of to speak out as the health care reform debate heats up around the country.

The former vice president of corporate communications at insurance giant Cigna, who left his post, says the industry is playing "dirty tricks" in an effort to manipulate public opinion.

"Words matter, and the insurance industry is a master at linguistics and using the hot words, buzzwords, buzz expressions that they know will get people upset," he told CNN Wednesday.

Now a senior fellow on health care for the watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy, Potter writes a blog on health care reform. He is focusing on efforts to defeat legislation supporting a government health care plan - something he supports.

Keep reading...

Filed under: 360° Radar • Health Care
soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. RLWellman

    You keep on fogetting to mderate my comments, you're giving me a complex.

    August 17, 2009 at 8:11 pm |
  2. lampe

    Dana: Why would people who have no insurance, care about the cost?And really I think most people would agree, we need some kind of HealthCare Repfrom, or whatever the term is this week. what most people don't want is The Government having complete control of their HealthCare.

    August 16, 2009 at 7:51 pm |
  3. Mary Grant, Connecticut

    Why does it take more than 24 hours to get my comment posted? It's still not posted.

    August 16, 2009 at 1:49 pm |
  4. Dave Strohmayer

    RE: Sec. Sebelius. Stated on cnn this am that if shed have had the option, seems to me she would have done away with her mother long before it was GODS choice. This obama death health care plan is evil. I told many last November what would happen if he was elected and its all coming true. OOOOO yes we will have options of abortions now and euthanasia with this death plan. Perhaps that is reason why world is in shape its in. We must get back to christianity and GOD-keep HIM in our lives and goverment, otherwise our country will fail. obama is the evil one trying to get this passed. Dont kid yourself the country will be in worse shape if this happens. Thank you

    August 16, 2009 at 12:10 pm |
  5. Cecile

    900 dollar ambulance, I paid 100
    30,000 dollar hospital bill for 3 days, I paid 700
    75 dollar doctor (cardio) visit while in hospital, I paid 25
    75 dollar doctor (gen. med.) visit while in hospital, I paid 25
    Total cost 850 dollars for me out of pocket and GUESS WHAT?

    August 16, 2009 at 11:09 am |
  6. RLWellman

    What does all this mean? It means you need to watch what the Government puts into these garbage bills! They need read before they are signed.

    You think the Government has your good intentions in mind? You need to read each bill and see for yourself who's interests they are watching out for.

    August 16, 2009 at 7:35 am |
  7. Ken

    I have no problem with health care reform for our citizens. My family has good coverage, I would like to see all of our citizens with the best care possible. If all our citizens contributed to a health care program, No Problem, give them good coverage.
    So far have you caught on to the key words " Our Citizens". I believe God created all people equal. We all have the basic right to have the best life possible. So" we all must contribute are part, work hard, pay taxes, contribute to health care. People who are homeless, low income we need to help.
    Here comes the part that some people will not like. We have people that are being taken to court for praying in places not allowed, breaking the law. Then again we have 12 million NON CITIZENS breaking the law, by staying in our country illegally. Something is not right with this picture. Crack down on illegal NON CITIZENS. Lock them up, no amnesty, no rights, and deport them.
    We need reform alright, but not just in health care. If the right wing and the left wing where not worried about losing votes, They could find a lot of money for health care by reforming illegal immigration, and easing the burden on American Citizen Tax Payers .

    August 15, 2009 at 11:32 pm |
  8. Lisa

    I'm disabled and on medicare.I get social security.The problem I have is I can't afford a med-gap policy to pick up the 20% that medicare doesn't pay.I'ts like I don't even have insurance.My income is just a little bit high to get help from the state.I had to go to the ER and I had to pay $500.I just wondered if there are people out there like me and if the health reform will help bring down the cost of these medigap policys.I've never heard anyone ask that guestion .

    August 15, 2009 at 10:49 pm |
  9. Marge Pell

    Mr. Potter's viewpoint is sobering. Working for a nonprofit, I have insurance through my husband's work. When he retires, I'll need to try and find insurance on my own for the five years before I can be covered under Medicare. Will my skin cancer keep me from being insured? It would set us up to lose everything we've worked for our whole lives. It's time for a public option. Without a vigorous press, giving us voices like Mr. Potter, telling the stories of people who have gone bankrupt, who have been denied - we will lose an opportunity to make it right. This should be about what's best for the American people.

    August 15, 2009 at 8:33 pm |
  10. Toni Fitzgerald

    I am so tired of watching town hall meetings in the so called Heartland of America. Those people are hateful ugly americans. My take on thier attitude is they are racists wanting no change at all. Typical republican thinking. No wonder other countries don't think much of us. CNN needs to show that there are people in this country that have compassion and want this country to move forward. I do not watch CNN any more. If you want the facts you need to research.

    August 15, 2009 at 6:33 pm |
  11. Susan

    I need Government Health Care!!!!!

    premiums are too high
    co-pay too high
    meds too high

    Now we are denied med insur. due to pre-existing condition...........

    In our late 50's......need.....dental............glasses.........my sister paid for some and now we are $30,000. in one year to docs/labs and time to go again for blood tests.............

    Again greed has overcome and Americans need to think about others if they are happy with their med.

    Please pass this bill.

    August 15, 2009 at 6:19 pm |
  12. Jane

    I am what u call "fortuate" to have insurance! After said that let me tell you how fortuate I am, have been paying insurance thru my employer at a starting good price goes up every year and have used it less n less and still paying! The deductable is sky high which must be paid before you have any major test done! Every pharmacy charges a different price even thro my co-pay is $10 always have a reason why it's higher and different price for the same precription. I have some medical issues but am scared to go to doctor in case they find something wrong and I need test done and have to come up with the deductable, and will have to choose pay deductable or pay my house note! It doesn't seem to matter to the hospitals whether I have insurance or not they need to get paid! I understand but if I didn't have a high insurance rate or high deduct I could easly pay the hostipal for test done! This has been going on for 20 years! I have fours sons, one is covered by insurance from employer works at a college, one sells cars and makes barely enough to pay insurance which is so high he hardly ever goes to the doctor, the other two employer doesn't offer! The USA needs to have a health program for all of us to insure and promote good health!

    August 15, 2009 at 1:37 pm |
  13. Mary Grant, Connecticut

    I know Wendell, having worked with him for a number of years at CIGNA. I found him to be very professional and reasonable. While I admire his stand, I think he's probably doing for his current organization exactly what he did for CIGNA – spouting the company talking points – and promoting one side of the story over the other. I would also like Anderson to ask him if he plans to refuse his CIGNA executive pension checks when he retires. That would be very telling.

    August 15, 2009 at 1:32 pm |
  14. J.V.Hodgson

    Time for me for the media to stop sitting on the fence, and playing the drama stories.
    Death panels do not exist, Frankly thats an insult to the whole medical profession, who can do nothing especially letting someone die ( or not be treated) without the families signature, or patient themselves if compos mentis.
    Illegal immigrants are excluded agree or not is an individual voter decision.
    Please media debunk this process.
    1) Vested interest claims for or against
    2) Punish severely in a reasonable critque the politically motivated extremes of either sides claims.
    3) Clearly, Insurance companies have put profit over care via pre-conditions rules ( the total antithesis of actuarial evaluation) and others.
    4) Dispel the myths and clear up realities.
    It needs a good balanced one hour special for a week, 1 day on each of the 4 above and a final summary with panels for and against, with a good moderator, who can stop either side ranting when your 4 programs have either proved or disproved especiallty the outlandish from either side.
    Help us please.

    August 15, 2009 at 2:44 am |
  15. KIm

    In 1993 medical bills were growing at over twice the rate of inflation. Now,we lose insurance for 14,000 people a day.Our current health care system is unsustainable and bank-rupting.Two days in the hospital and pay $200 thousand dollars,! Find out you're terminal and your insurance company drops you. Reality checks of life need to cash in on Universial Health Care ! Read the Health Security Act ! Remember the old and just remember ,you were told.

    August 15, 2009 at 2:43 am |
  16. Martin

    People expect their insurance policies to cover treatments other than for real accidents and diseases. These runs costs up. No one is forgiven for bad behavior and robbing a bank but bad behavior and getting hooked on drugs or having a unwanted child is forgiveable and insurance should cover the cost. If someone has a pimple on their face they run to a specialist for pimples, if they cough or sneeze three times, they go to the doctor. Please lets keep the insurance for real medical problems, not for viagra, birth control pills, thining hair and other STUPID conditions. About 40% of health costs for those under 35 is caused by life choices: bad diets, lack of exercise, indecriminate sexual activity, drug use, criminal activity, gang wars, driving while drunk, etc.

    August 15, 2009 at 2:37 am |
  17. Chaney,Sarepta, La

    If I could critique the news media about coverage of the healthcare debate, it would be to say that to much attention is payed to the controversy and not enough to the facts. Wendell Potter has a concience and when he got out of the corporate bubble , and saw how those decisions made in the board room impacted real people, it was time to do the right thing.

    August 14, 2009 at 10:51 pm |
  18. robert tramell

    the health insurance companies are not in the business for health care....they are in the business to make money...I cant believe people are defending them its time for reform

    August 14, 2009 at 10:23 pm |
  19. Dana

    what I don't understand is why only people with health insurance coverage are screaming that the new reform will socialize medicine in the US? Nobody is telling them to give up on the coverage they already have. If they are happy with it, they can keep it. But why are they denying the uninsured a chance to get coverage? I bet if the same people will be left one day without coverage, they will not be screaming against the reform so much...
    The socialism card is overplayed. After all we do have the Post Office, and we have UPS, DHL... That seem to work just fine.

    August 14, 2009 at 8:21 pm |
  20. Sandra

    All I can say is that it's about time you did a piece on this man. Bill Moyers had him on his journal back in May and I posted a comment about it a while ago. I have been extremely frustrated with CNN's coverage of the healthcare reform process. So congratulations for FINALLY getting on the band wagon.

    I have been working in psychiatric and substance abuse treatment for twenty years. I have argued with private insurance companies for a few more days of treatment for a woman who had a brain tumor and was living in her car and had attempted suicide but the insurance company decided it was time to discharge her after four days of treatment. I argued for a young man to stay in intensive outpatient treatment for his addiction problem and the insurance company wanted him to attend community self help groups in spite of the fact that his shame over his addiction drove him to attempt suicide. I have endless stories of nightmare arguments with private insurance companies who deny sufficient treatment for severly ill patients. I always heave a sigh of relief when a patient has Medicare or medicaid.

    It happens that I currently live in Connecticut, a state that has wonderful health benefits for the poor and for those who cannot afford insurance. The state programs provide plenty of care for patients. Medicare doesn't question treatment at all unless the patient has one of those ridiculous plans that are managed by private insurance that the Bush administration arranged in the great insurance company subsidy program passed into law under that administration.

    Kudos to Mr. Potter and thank you for finally featuring him. Now how about some good investigative reporting on the lies and propaganda being funded by big business. The health insurance industry is thriving in this period of economic woe for most industry. Hummmm. I wonder why that is?

    August 14, 2009 at 8:14 pm |
  21. Wenzel

    Healthcare Reform Now!

    The healthcare industry continues to milk the system, the reason Medicare is bust. My insurance premium increased by 20% in 2008. I told the company to take the policy is stick it where the sun don't shine, now I am uninsured. Just because you have Corporate Health Insurance doesn't mean there are millions of us who are not blessed to have the same opportunities (and NO, I'm not unemployed). Just like the banks, Healthcare too requires regulations. I'm tired of listening to all the whining about capitalism. If they weren't so greedy this issue would not be an issue, or no?

    August 14, 2009 at 7:59 pm |
  22. Ron San Bruno, Ca

    It is important that we all understand the usefullness of Buzz words, it's like when a commerical comes on your volume goes up and you don't even realize you've been "Cranked Up".

    August 14, 2009 at 7:28 pm |
  23. Kerrie

    So are we talking about HEALTH CARE REFORM or INSURANCE REFORM? If insurance reform is the topic du jour, then I guess we need a bill to take over that industry, too!!

    To Julie – I don't think fertility treatments should be covered by insurance companies AT ALL! Insurance is to be used when you are really sick and need to see a doctor or if you need a life-saving operation,

    August 14, 2009 at 7:20 pm |
  24. Public Option Is Key

    I just don't understand, these people that hate him the most that are so angry at what he's trying to do, are the ones that will benefit the most from this health care reform. Why can't they put away thier hatred and look at the facts and see that they are being played by the insurance companies and big pharma. All our rates are going to go through the roof in our meds cost are going to be outrageous. YOur current employers will not be able to offer you insurance bc the insurance companies will make ti too expensive for them to. Stop your hatred and look at what you are doing to yourselves and rest fo the country

    August 14, 2009 at 7:10 pm |
  25. Annie Kate

    Counter commercials need to be made to correct the information given out by the negative ads being shown by opponents of health care reform as well as to get information out about the features of the system and what it means on an individual/family basis. That plus commercials showing what happens to people whose insurance won't cover some conditions and to people who have no insurance would at least be giving out the same information all over the country instead of the piecemeal manner information is getting out now.

    August 14, 2009 at 6:21 pm |
  26. Julie

    The opponents against the President's healthplan need to wake up. The insurance they've currently got has one goal – to DENY care to anyone who's unfortunate enough to actually try to use the services.

    Did you know that Kaiser denies fertility treatments to women in their early 40's? Denial of service is based solely on the woman's age, not the male partner's. For example, a 20 year old could receive services even though her partner is an 80 year old man. A 45 year old woman married to a 30 year old man would be ineligible for fertility services.

    Under Obama's plan, ALL women, regardless of age, would be eligible for services.

    August 14, 2009 at 5:50 pm |
  27. Christina *L.A. California*

    Why doesn't come back swining @ all those adds against health care reform by playing videos and showing American's what happens to people when the insurance companies decide that they don't want to cover someones operation.

    August 14, 2009 at 5:26 pm |
  28. Joe G. (Illinois)

    I would agree that words matter.. But that’ not all..! In life and business we look for men and women that dress and act the part.. For example: Just like when you go to a restaurant and sit down at a table and you don’t give your order to just anyone who walks up to you dressed in a Rotor Rooter uniform and stinking grease all over… People don’t feel comfortable giving and entrusting their livelihoods into the hands someone who has no resentments or human feelings toward the livelihood of our most innocent and vulnerable children still in the womb.

    August 14, 2009 at 5:16 pm |

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