Favorite

A reformed health executive speaks 

Wendell Potter became visibly emotional once in our nearly 90-minute visit. It happened when he talked about Nataline Sarkysian.

She was a 17-year-old Armenian-American girl in southern California whose dad worked in an auto assembly plant. She died about this time two years ago from complications of leukemia.

Her doctors at UCLA had wanted to get her a liver transplant, but the CIGNA health insurance corporation, for which Potter was vice president for communications, declined to provide coverage. It said the procedure was experimental.

But then the family landed a high-profile attorney and live coverage on CNN for a demonstration outside a CIGNA office in California. Potter, watching in his Philadelphia office, got informed by his bosses that, suddenly, CIGNA would cover the procedure.

Potter managed to get word of that to the family. He saw someone whisper the news to the mother right there on his television set.

The demonstration turned happy. But then, in a matter of hours, before she could get the transplant, Nataline died.

Potter had a corporate spin job to do, and, as was his custom, he did it dutifully and well.

But he also had a daughter about Nataline's age.

An old newspaperman in Memphis, Potter already had spent 2007 growing disenchanted with the corporate culture in which he thrived. He began to understand this: Through the health insurance industry's becoming for-profit and consolidated in a half-dozen or so corporations, health care was getting essentially dictated by Wall Street investors concerned about profit margins.

In the summer of that year, he had gone home to northeastern Tennessee to visit his parents. Seeing a notice in the local newspaper, he decided to drive up into southwestern Virginia to look around a free health clinic.

He was surprised to learn from many of the patients that they actually had health insurance, but couldn't afford to reach the annual deductibles — which had been steadily raised to shore up profit margins for Wall Street — so that full reimbursements could ensue.

By May 2008, he quit. He was 58 and the company portrayed his departure as a retirement. It was partly that, but more a conversion.

Now Potter goes around the country trying to get people to listen to him about how the health insurance industry he so recently and ably served is, while not malevolent or intentionally abusive, dysfunctional as both a human and long-term business enterprise.

He was in Little Rock to speak at Philander Smith College. He was visiting with me at the state headquarters of the Arkansas State AFL-CIO. He was interested in Arkansas because Blanche Lincoln is a swing vote who resists the solution that he says is vital — a public option government insurer to enter the health insurance marketplace and force CIGNA and the rest to lower costs, cut executive salaries, improve coverage and ground a few corporate jets.

Lincoln's idea for regional nonprofit cooperatives won't do any real good, he says. You need more muscle than a regional co-op can muster to pry your way into the health insurance market, he says.

The challenge, he says, is to change the very business culture, which a full nationwide public option could facilitate.

If we merely order up new customers for the existing health insurance industry and reform rules on pre-existing conditions, then we'll proceed inevitably, he says, to a kind of Armageddon.

The day will come, he says, when people won't be able to afford health insurance and employers won't be able to provide it and government will be bankrupted by it and the health insurance industry's investors will be wondering where all the money went.

“Fear-mongering works,” Potter says, lamenting the other side's warnings of “government takeover” and a “slippery slope to socialism.”

Those are superficially incendiary phrases. The more appropriate fear, Potter says, is that we're all one layoff away, and a week's hospital stay away, from bankruptcy.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by John Brummett

  • Obstruction is the preferred conservatism

    Is there greater conservative virtue in opposing federal health reform, period, or in saying it ought to be implemented locally instead of from Washington in the event we are unavoidably laden with it?
    • Oct 5, 2011
  • A fate not quite as bad as prison for Lu Hardin

    There is no crime in being overly and transparently solicitous for the purposes of aggrandizement and personal political advancement. That's simply acute neediness, a common and benign human frailty.
    • Sep 28, 2011
  • Can we talk? Can we get anywhere?

    Dialogue is good. It would be even better if someone would venture off script every once in a while.
    • Sep 21, 2011
  • More »

Most Shared

  • ASU to reap $3.69 million from estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn

    Arkansas State University announced today plans for spending an expected $3.69 million gift in the final distribution of the estate of Jim and Wanda Lee Vaughn, who died in 2013 and 2015 respectively.
  • Bad health care bill, again

    Wait! Postpone tax reform and everything else for a while longer because the Senate is going to try to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act one more time before September ends and while it can do it with the votes of only 50 senators.
  • Sex on campus

    Look, the Great Campus Rape Crisis was mainly hype all along. What Vice President Joe Biden described as an epidemic of sexual violence sweeping American college campuses in 2011 was vastly overstated.
  • The inadequate legacy of Brown

    LRSD continues to abdicate its responsibility to educate poor black students.

Latest in John Brummett

  • Gone to the DoG

    We're now longer carrying John Brummett's column in this space.
    • Oct 12, 2011
  • Obstruction is the preferred conservatism

    Is there greater conservative virtue in opposing federal health reform, period, or in saying it ought to be implemented locally instead of from Washington in the event we are unavoidably laden with it?
    • Oct 5, 2011
  • A fate not quite as bad as prison for Lu Hardin

    There is no crime in being overly and transparently solicitous for the purposes of aggrandizement and personal political advancement. That's simply acute neediness, a common and benign human frailty.
    • Sep 28, 2011
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

September

S M T W T F S
  1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Sex on campus

    • Once again commentators blame the victim. Social scientists, of whom I am one, regularly find…

    • on September 22, 2017
  • Re: Time for a coalition

    • Shiny, nobody is saying that Hillary isn't entitled to speak. Shit, the more she talks,…

    • on September 21, 2017
  • Re: Bad health care bill, again

    • Its hard to tell what the GOP in Arkansas care about beyond making life worse…

    • on September 20, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation