Wendell Potter: Single Payer Is Industry’s Biggest Nightmare
23 Corporate Crime Reporter 29, July 22, 2009

Single payer is the insurance industry’s biggest nightmare.

That’s the take of Wendell Potter.

And Wendell Potter should know.

He’s the former chief spokesman for one of the big four health insurers – CIGNA.

He was with the company for 15 years, before leaving earlier this year.

He testified last month before the U.S. Senate – exposing the industry’s practice of dumping sick patients.

He’s now with the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin.

He wants to spend his time at the Center exposing the immorality and illegality of the insurance industry.

“Single payer is the biggest nightmare the insurance companies have and continue to have,” Potter told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “And they will fight it to the death. And they will throw everything they have at it. And they have a lot of resources. There is a lot of money. A lot of lobbying power.”

“Keep in mind that since the failure of the Clinton health insurance plan, there has been enormous consolidation in the health insurance industry into the hands of a few very, very large for profit companies.”

“The four largest – WellPoint, United, Aetna and CIGNA. There are three more that are fairly big – but now one out of every three Americans is enrolled in some kind of plan offered by one of those four companies.”

“So yes, they want to stay in business. And their biggest nightmare is a single payer system. So, everything that they see that comes out of Washington they view as putting us on the road to single payer.”

Potter said that he’s baffled by President Obama’s recent habit of having the President of Aetna tag along at White House and other health care events.

“I’m baffled by it,” Potter said. “I really am hoping that the President is abiding by the old adage – keep your friends close and your enemies closer. I certainly hope that he doesn’t see the President of Aetna as someone who is really sincere in bringing solutions that Americans would embrace.”

Potter says that “the insurers are using language that can be appealing to Americans – they are very good at linguistics – not only scaring Americans, but presenting themselves as champions of the people.”

“They are not. They are driven by profits. And that is what their ultimate goal is – to remain profitable.”

What turned Potter against the industry that he worked for for so long?

It was a 2007 trip to coal mining country – Wise County, Virginia. There, a public interest group called Remote Area Medical had set up a health fair – where doctors, dentists and nurses dished out free medical care.

Thousands of poor people showed up and waited in line, in the rain, for free medical treatment.

“Volunteers go the fair grounds before the expedition starts,” Potter explained. “They scrub down and disinfect the animal stalls. And that is where these poor folks get their care. I was literally speechless. I couldn’t hold back the tears. And it’s even hard to talk about now without getting emotional.”

“That did it for me. I knew at that moment that what I was doing for a living was not what I needed to do. I needed to make a radical change in what I was doing. I needed to start speaking on behalf of those people in Wise County.

“And millions of people in similar situations in this country, rather than for profit insurance companies.”

Was it a religious conversion?

“It actually was spiritual,” Potter says. “I’m not a big religious guy. But there has been a spiritual element to this. I have long felt that there was something I was supposed to be doing that I wasn’t doing.”

“But that day in Wise County, Virginia, it became abundantly clear to me what I was supposed to be doing with the rest of my life.”

[For a complete transcript of the Interview with Wendell Potter, see 23 Corporate Crime Reporter 29(12), July 20, 2009, print edition only.]



Corporate Crime Reporter
1209 National Press Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20045