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Wendell Potter; Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans

Broadcast 1/26/2011 at 11:18 AM EST (1 Listens, 1 Downloads, 8 Itunes)
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Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans
Wendell Potter's Bio:

As one former insurance executive testified before Congress, insurance companies are not only encouraged to find reasons to drop the seriously ill; they are rewarded for it. All of this is in service of meeting what this former executive called, "Wall Street's relentless profit expectations.'" --Â President Barack Obama, Remarks to Joint Session of Congress, September 9, 2009

Following a 20-year career as a corporate public relations executive, Wendell left his position as head of communications for CIGNA, one of the nation's largest health insurers, to help socially responsible organizations -- including those advocating for meaningful health care reform -- achieve their goals.

In widely covered testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Technology Committee in June of 2009, Wendell disclosed how insurance companies, as part of their efforts to boost profits, have engaged in practices that have resulted in millions of Americans being forced into the ranks of the uninsured. Wendell also described how the insurance industry has developed and implemented strategic communications plans, based on deceptive public relations, advertising and lobbying efforts, to defeat reform initiatives.

Since then Wendell has testified before two House committees, briefed several members of Congress and their staffs, appeared with members of Congress at several press conferences, spoken at more than 100 public forums, and has been the subject of numerous articles in the U.S. and foreign media.

His new book is an expose of health insurers and a stark warning that corporate spin is distorting our democracy. Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans(Bloomsbury Press hardcover, November 2010) tells us why -- and how -- we must fight back.

Wendell is currently a senior analyst at the The Center for Public Integrity, a non-partisan nonprofit that produces original, responsible investigative journalism on issues of public concern; the senior fellow on health care for the Center for Media and Democracy, an independent, non-partisan public interest organization; and speaks out on both the need for a fundamental overhaul of the American health care system and on the dangers to American democracy and society of the decline of the media as watchdog, which has contributed to the growing and increasingly unchecked influence of corporate PR. He also serves as a consumer liaison representative for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

At CIGNA, Wendell served in a variety of positions over 15 years, most recently as head of corporate communications and chief corporate spokesperson. Prior to joining CIGNA, Wendell headed communications at Humana Inc., another large for-profit health insurer. Before that he was director of public relations and advertising for the Baptist Health System of East Tennessee and a partner in an Atlanta public relations firm.

Interview Rough Notes:
These notes are VERY rough and incomplete. If they grab your interest, you really should listen to the podcast.

My take on book: Expected to not learn much because I"ve followed you and we've had several in depth conversations. But I was very, very pleased to discover that your book took me to a lot of places I hadn't been and taught me a real lot. When I say a real lot, I mean it got me to see the world differently, to look at the things I look at every day in the news from a different perspective.

I find that big ideas, ideas that change the way we see things and understand them don't come often. I love it when I learn a new keystroke command for my computer. And I love it when a book gives me a new set of tools to see and understand the world. That's what this book did, going far, far beyond giving the insider's big picture on how private health insurers and their allies have gamed the system, the media and fought against laws that would be good for voters and the American Economy.

Apology to Michael Moore

AMA was at forefront of keeping change from happening-- leading fight to try to keep medicare legislation from being passed. Â Fierce opposition and fear mongering campaign.
Teddy Roosevelt was first American pres to propose a rational approach to health care.
This time AMA woke up to realize that they were no longer in charge of the health care system, they have lost many of their members and the insurance industry has rushed into control the void.

Fake Bottom up
special interest groups don't have large numbers of people on their side so they have to create the impression...
They hired multiple PR firms, one in particular, APCO world wide,
Arnold and Porter law firm has long represented tobacco companies-- realized they needed more than law to win public opinion--
APCO worldwide has huge revenues-- these organizations use this PR firm and others to create fake grass roots organizations, like health Care America-- for health insurance and health care companies w ith a vested interest in keeping the status quo to scare people away from the movie.. Sicko. They had to have some fake group like health care america to counter the message.

I finally realized that I was working for a side that wanted to persuade and manipulate and mislead...
The movie Sicko, becaus of the role I played in trying to discredit the movie...

The industry engaged APCO to engage in a very expensive campaign to discredit Michael Moore, to make him radioactive, anti ameican, wanted people to think that the other healthcare systems Moore portrayed were socialistic, knowing that term would scare people away.

Socialistic term-- The term has been used many many years, going back to the AMA efforts. They hired Ronald Reagan to beat back medicare-- this was some of the exposure that led to his career in  politics, back in the 60s. They've used that term over and over again just to create fear. At t he core of all these crusades is fear mongering. Â

Over $80 million spent

People are confusing good treatment facilities to a good functioning system. The speaker of the house was using that term, "we have the best health care system in the world." It's a myth. Advocates of the status quo do th ink that we have the best of everything in the world.

We do have great treatment facilities, and some of the best doctors on the planet-- but like that measure on fairness, those facilities are off limits, unavailable to most. We don't even have a system. All the developed countries have some federal strategy to create a rational health care system for all of its citizens-... because the special interests got control.

British have had health care for all for 100 years, Germans for about 125 years.

Interviewed by a lot of foreign journalists and every one is astonished by our so called system.

One out of three

What wall street and analysts expected and what executives would do-- everthing within their power, including many things that are anti-consumer and ultimately deadly, to meet wall street's expectations.

The for-profits control the marketplace but the "non-profits" have to play by the same rules and they call additional profits "surplusses"
They operate the way they do because they have to. They cannot offer benefit plans that are significantly lower or with much better benefits because they will attract more people who are sick.

They thrive in this marketplace for insurance just as much as the for-profits do.
In many places the

Nixon, Clinton,
Nixon introduced the HMO system, based on California's Kaiser Permanente plan.

My biggest objective is to alarm people, to wak people up to be skeptical to what you are hearing from the news makers and the media.
None of us is skeptical enough and we've all been taken in by these PR tactics, to learn to be perceptive.

Example, ad on MSNBC using deceptive fear mongering to fight taxes on sugary drinks.

We should not fear a government takeover of the health care system We should fear a corporate, wallstreet take over of health care and our government.

This should be a wakeup call and we have to take our country back from thesse corporate interests. We have a plutocracy.

Fascism-- company run by corporations. We don't have a government for the people. we have a government for the corporations and by the corporations. It's as simple as that. A handful of corporate executives are in charge. They are incredibly capable of influencing campaigns and influencing them once they are in office.

Consumers don't have the skills.
How could they
educactiona component
Get community leaders or influentials to start getting more engaged, to really develop umbrella organizations that can be sizeable enough and resourced enough to fight back. We really have to learn by the playback, as the chapter in the book to see how the enemy does things and fight fire with fire.

The one that that advocates of progressive change, not just healthcare, the advantage is there are large numbers of people on their side. If the power of the people can be harnessed.

Charm offensive: head of insurance industry lobbby told president that he and members of congress that members of industry could be depended on to be good faith partners in reform, that that industry would be on the side of the angels, wearing white hats thist time. But at the same time she was saying this, her orgs were undermining efforts. They engaged in a charm offensive to hide their fingerprints on the fear mongering campaign, very much involved in feeding the tea party movement and talking points,
Very much involved in reframing the debate
Wanted ameicans to be doubtful that 50 million americans were uninsured and wanted people to think that people choose to be uninsured, were irresponsible in the way we access health care.

Creating front groups, using third party allies-- chamber of commerce, federation of independent business, heritage Foundation, Cato, Gaylin, Wall Street Journal and TV pundites.

Most health care reporting is done by business reporters and the only people who see that are investors and people interested in the stock market. Reporters write stories with investors in mind. Reporting that bloomberg does is proprietary. By and large the MSm pay no attentiona.

Same pattern of no access to health insurance is happening to news. What will happen is that the best reporting of the news will only be available to the elites. The bulk of the

In the seventies there was a one to one ratio of reporters to PR people. Many newspapers have folded and " it's now a four to one advantage for the PR people and that's a huge disadvantage for the rest of us.

Government staffers have very little understanding of how the private (health care) system operates. A lot of people who were fighting a government takeover do that based on ignorance. They just don't have a clue and the info they do have comes straight from the lobbyists.

One of my jobs was to develop good relationships with reporters so they'd trust me.

The other side of that is advocates of reform don't know how these companies operate.

Every PR practitioner is not practicing the dark arts of PR. There are a lot of PR p ractitioners who work for worthy organizations. If advocacy orgs are going to fight back effectively, they are going to have to learn how to use the PR tool kit and play book to understand how things are done.

Lewin Group was acquired by United Health Care-- involved in turning out studies that reform would not be cost saving, would cost more.

Special interests lie with statistics

one of my favorite books in college was How To Lie with statistics-- not to lie, but to understand how it's done.

Financial reform time-- had people infiltrate dailykos and firedoglake.
You want to infiltrate the enemy camp.
I did not hire bloggers. It's done a lot.Walmart used a PR firm to do that and they got caught

They know more about social media-- infiltration, doing it very carefully-- the operative word here is stealth, to make sure that what they are doing.

Monsanto--- is much loathed and much of what they do is so feared by environmentalists... for good reason. Â it would be just like any corporation or industry that is not held in high public esteem. " to be able to get their talking points out in the world, they have to work with others who are not perceived to be connected w ith them who are percieved more highly.

PR guy from Monsanto probably felt he was doing the public a good service--

I do think these folks are largely good people. What happens is that we make bargains with ourselves over time. We realize we have to put food on our famiy's tables. To do that you will often do things that you might no prefer to do from an ethical moral perspective. It's kind of like the frog in the pot of water-- you turn the heat up "
The same was true for me earlier in my career... Â I didn't realize how much things had changed until later in my career. I looked in the mirror and said to myself "who are you?" I had a crisis

Divestment idea -- divesting from private health care insurers.

See a day when big for profit corporations will move out of financing health care into some other business.
Need to establish a basic benefits package so it's hard to see difference.

Humana was primarily a hospital company. After a wh ile investors told management to get rid of the hospitals. CIGNA, AETNA, METLIFE, TRAVELERS had other products-- property insurance, reinsurance-- and were told to focus on multiple lines of business.

Sold financial services businesses.

Others got out of health care business.

These companies have evolved and changed radically when wall street wanted them to get in or out of different lines of business They already  have lines of business that wall street is paying attention to that is

The way that we'll eventually get ot single payer is "

There will be a multipronged approach to single payer.
The French system is usually the most highly regarded. Probably we will have a uniquely American health care system.

What will the insurance industry do to Vermont as they move towards legislation for single payer.

They will work overtime-- a fear mongering campaign, an effort to get people to think that Canadians hate their system, that there will e long lines, with selective disclosure of data. it will be a huge misinformation campaign and the insurers will attempt to hide their involvement.

One of the insurers could benefit.

Three possible plans for VT-- pure single payer, public option, contracted out non-govt. single payer. That's the way the medicare system is operated. The federal government does not operate the medicare system. They work with private contractors.

spin, spin, spin
not socialism, forced migration, personal responsibility crusade, limited benefits plans, mlr,
Lewin Group Lies


211 Playbook
214 Faux Top Down
tobacco's DNA 217
Front groups on Dkos and FDL Â 232

Top Down News access

charm offensives,
front groups,
sold out media-- pundits, health care beat reporters,

Vermont, CA, PA-- state level legislation. What should Vermont expect?

Partisan angle-- can Republicans get behind some version of single payer?

Can republicans get behind single payer or health care for all.
Yes, but you can't use the same liberal talking points.
if advocates of single payer can get that, then progress can be made.
I really applaud the approach that Chuck (Pennaccio) of Health Care for All Pa is taking.

Language for conservatives.
how it is fiscally responsible, how businesses can save money

Your biggest success is going to be persuading people in the middle.

Rob: We need to get uninsured and people victims of health related bankruptcy together.
We need leaders-- like Martin Luther King did.
You've got to have real leaders that can truly motivate and reach people. Maybe there's a Martin Luther King out

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