Kent Pitman

Kent Pitman
New England, USA
Philosopher, Technologist, Writer
I've been using the net in various roles—technical, social, and political—for the last 30 years. I'm disappointed that most forums don't pay for good writing and I'm ever in search of forums that do. (I've not seen any Tippem money, that's for sure.) And I worry some that our posting here for free could one day put paid writers in Closed Salon out of work. See my personal home page for more about me.


JULY 12, 2009 5:06PM

Bill Moyers interviews ex-head of communications for Cigna

Rate: 17 Flag

Bill Moyers interviewed Wendell Potter, former head of corporate communications for Cigna. This is a really great interview and well worth seeing. Here's a sample:

WENDELL POTTER: The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, that if you even consider that, you're heading down on the slippery slope towards socialism. So they have used scare tactics for years and years and years, to keep that from happening. If there were a broader program like our Medicare program, it could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies. So that is their biggest concern.

BILL MOYERS: And there was a political strategy. "Position Sicko as a threat to Democrats' larger agenda." What does that mean?

WENDELL POTTER: That means that part of the effort to discredit this film was to use lobbyists and their own staff to go onto Capitol Hill and say, "Look, you don't want to believe this movie. You don't want to talk about it. You don't want to endorse it. And if you do, we can make things tough for you."


WENDELL POTTER: By running ads, commercials in your home district when you're running for reelection, not contributing to your campaigns again, or contributing to your competitor.

Here's another from later in the interview:

WENDELL POTTER: That we shouldn't fear government involvement in our health care system. That there is an appropriate role for government, and it's been proven in the countries that were in that movie.

You know, we have more people who are uninsured in this country than the entire population of Canada. And that if you include the people who are underinsured, more people than in the United Kingdom. We have huge numbers of people who are also just a lay-off away from joining the ranks of the uninsured, or being purged by their insurance company, and winding up there.

And another thing is that the advocates of reform or the opponents of reform are those who are saying that we need to be careful about what we do here, because we don't want the government to take away your choice of a health plan. It's more likely that your employer and your insurer is going to switch you from a plan that you're in now to one that you don't want. You might be in the plan you like now.

The entire interview is the length of his normal show, but for people who are in a hurry (not to mention people who hearing-impaired), there is a text transcript immediately below each part of the video.

Video options:

Or download the audio podcast.

Auxiliary text for Bill Moyers' Journal entry, titled “Health Care Reform On the Table,” is available, as well.

Moyers has packed a lot of good information into this Journal entry. Good job, Bill!

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There are two things I don't understand about the opposition to a public option. First is the claim that it will be horrible and expensive. Well, if that's the case, then nobody will use it. Everyone will go with the cheaper and better option.

The other thing is that nobody is talking about the VA. The VA provides some of the best medical care in the country, and they do it for less than the private sector.

If I were pushing for a public option, I would say, look, the VA is consistently rated as a high quality provider and they do it for less money than others do. Maybe private companies should look to them instead of claiming that the government can't handle it.

And they should. They should look at the VA's electronic medical record system, for example. The Pentagon is trying to learn from the VA.
Thanks for posting this. I intend to look at the interview tomorrow when I can spend an hour uninterrupted. I hope he causes others employed by the health insurance agency to speak out.
Tony, re: Public Option. The concern is that it will be expensive for the taxpayers. That, in order to provide any impact, it will need to be heavily subsidized, and that will be an enormous new cost for the country.

Or, alternately, that the plan is not subsidized, and then achieves nothing on top of the existing private plans.

It basically comes down to: do you think US health insurance costs are high because of "greedy corporations"? (In which case, just adding a single new option will bring needed competition.) Or do you think that there is something more complex going on, and thus the mere addition of a new (fair) competitor will make no difference at all?
That was one of the best Journals I've seen yet. I like that Moyers made a point of asking Potter questions at the beginning to show that Potter was not some disgruntled former employee who had been fired, but was, in fact, perfectly happy in his job and very successful at it, until he decided to leave.

This is the issue for this country. We simply have to move beyond the current system. I have people in my family who are uninsured, even though they work hard every day. I want to be able to stop worrying about them.
A friend actually forwarded a link to this interview the other day to me.... At first, I was thinking, "Why? Big deal?" And then I really listened to what was being said. He conceded so much more than I ever expected. It was a breath of fresh air. There was no ax to grind. It was just a man speaking his mind. Stunning in today's day and age. Love that Bill Moyers.

Tony, while there are certainly some that fear the things that you cite, the interview makes it clear that there is also a deliberate attempt by the insurance companies to sieze on such fears and legitimize them beyond the level that they should naturally rise to. It's a war and it's fought on the front of “control of narrative.” A lot of money goes into framing the issue a certain way. See the interview, then come back and relate your impression about how it answered your question.

Dorinda, more than just having others speak out, I hope it causes either Congress to ask for an investigation or more likely for people to start pushing hard on their Congressfolk about whether they are among those that have been coerced by these companies in the manner the interview suggests. If they really have the kind of influence alleged in the interview, democracy itself is compromised.

Don, I hope you'll make time to watch the interview and then will offer comments on it directly. This guy is from the inside and suggests pretty strongly that the conspiracy theorists are not far off.
The "conspiracy theorists" have validated repeatedly. There is really no doubt about the fact that the medical insurance corporations are robbing us blind.
When I think about health care access in the U.S. I blame the public as much as the lobbyists. Of course the US has always had socialized medicine in the armed services, as well as the VA. What would we do without Medicare? Do we really want uninsured people to just suck it up and suffer? Could there be any reasonable reason not to do away with the fractional, costly, unfair, confusing, crumby way of deciding who/if/when/where individuals can access medical services? People are both selfish and stupid. In equal measures.
Jeanette, I would almost agree with you about health care being the issue if not for Climate Change and the Economy. We've basically got a heap-o'-problems just now. But, that said, I don't think we can solve the Economy without solving health care. And I reluctantly don't think we can focus where we should on the Climate Change issue without fixing the Economy. So it's got to be done. Big as this issue is, and it's really big, those other issues are bigger.
Lisa, yeah, it really was quite amazing for its low-key admission of things that were really amazing. I thought it pretty matter-of-fact and forthcoming in a way I didn't expect.
Thanks for sharing this, Kent!
There is something I have never heard discussed about the "burden" of insurance on the taxpayer. There is already a cost to those paying for all or a portion of their own health insurance, which I would think is what - 75% -- of those insured at this time? Since my income varies, I cannot assign a percentage, but in this economy, my health care insurance costs would be about 8% of my gross income. I imagine that would not be unusual for most Americans -- I saw a statistic the other day, but I cannot remember what it was.

The point is that I could have up to an 8% increase in my taxes and not have one penny more going out of my pocket per year toward health care insurance. I imagine that the new plan would be more comprehensive than mine is now -- a no frills plan for sure.

Why doesn't anyone discuss the cost of health care insurance from this perspective? I don't think everyone expects if to be "free" but are looking for a more stable and equitable plan than what is on offer now...If more people understood they could be trading up to a better plan for the same or less money, that would be more productive than any other approach. "What is in it for me" is the American Way. And, unfortunately, need be since we are left to fend for ourselves against big business without government regulation...
You know, I am very big on keeping the government out of stuff, BUT as a business model healthcare doesn't work well.

Take pre-existing conditions, to remove them provides a huge liability for a business. To keep them increases the likelihood of never having insurance, or loosing it if you try to switch plans.

To raise rates on those who use more healthcare, only makes good business sense, but again can cause those who need it most to loose it.

To tie healthcare to a the users place of employeement keeps them from running to another provider when the rates go up, thus killing competition, the true fabric of a capitalist society. For a place of business to switch healthcare companies is an incrediable headache and so they rarely do so.

When you are really sick you cannot afford higher rates because in all likelihood you may not be able to work, or at best work fewer hours for example. Having seen Medicare and how it worked for my mother before she passed away, I really liked it. It was much easier than any insurance company I've ever dealt with.

Great post!
Rick, I hope my use of the term “conspiracy theorist” didn't sound pejorative. I meant the term literally without connotation. As the saying goes, “it's not paranoia when the enemy is real.”

lalucas, I think you'll find the answer to your question in the interview. The answer, in brief, is that the battle is for power, not for truth, justice, and the American way, and the battle is fought in terms of obfuscation and distraction, not in terms of honorable debate. Control of narrative is everything.
Risa, in fairness, the flip side of democracy's power is the futility of individual action. People need to be given reasonable options. And that means decent/smart people need to run. And that means people need to elect the right people. And that means they have to not be driven by sound bites and need to think more seriously about the consequences of who they elect and what they count as intolerable scandal. Right now we find a million reasons to discount good candidates for petty/silly reasons, and then find that the remaining candidates, though having passed the petty/silly tests cannot do what we need... which is maybe what the scandal-makers wanted all along. Ok, I started out to say you were being unfair to the public, but maybe not. It's just that seeing where the elusive cause begins is tricky.
Risa, sorry about the formatting in that last comment. Response to you is buried in the paragraph I wrote to lalucas.

William, thanks. Some excellent reasoning there.
Glad you are bringing attention to this interview, Kent. There has been a lot of propaganda regarding health care in US, so anything to bring out the true inner workings of the industry is helpful.

Nah, I had gotten your connotation. When the threat is real, it is not paranoia.