Wendell Potter a high priced flack for the huge medical firm CIGNA finally had enough.
For 15 years Potter, a good old boy from Chatanooga, Tenn was a hired gun, the head of communications for one of those conglomerates whose main job seems to be to deny medical claims in the brutal American health system.
Just before he retired in 2007 and “saw the light”, Potter defended CIGNA when it refused to pay for a 17-year-old’s transplant surgery, claiming the procedure was experimental. Protests at a regional headquarters created a public relations nightmare. Potter was shaken when people, enraged at such patent injustice, burst into headquarters along with the media. The insurance giant reversed themselves but 2 hrs later the 17 year old died. Potter still was blind.The biblical “they have eyes but do not see” is operative here.They are dead but breathing.
What turned Portter around and disgusted him was when on a trip home he borrowed his father’s car and went 50 miles up the road to Wise, Virginia where idealistic doctors were treating just a few of the 47 million Americans with no health care.He was sickened by the lack of privacy, people lying on gurmeys in animal stalls, their dignity in shreds and their pocket books empty in the land of the free of the home of the knaves.They had come from all over the south- South Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky, Tennessee–just to see a doctor. The scales fell from Wendell Potter’s eyes.
“There could have been people and probably were people that I had grown up with. They could have been people who grew up at the house down the road, in the house down the road from me. And that made it real to me” Potter told one of America’s great voices of conscience, Bill Moyers .
Potter finally understood that all those statistics he had been dealing with were but numbers with faces and tears erased, humans made in the image of God abandoned by political whores in the House and senate, men rented by Big Pharma nd the Health Care industry to keep this unconscionable going.
“I had a terrific office in a high-rise building in Philadelphia. I was insulated.” Potter told Moyers . “ I didn’t really see what was going on. I saw the data. I knew that 47 million people were uninsured, but I didn’t put faces with that number.”
Wendell Potter was like many, seduced by a corporate culture, loyalty to a firm which paid him well.He was not an evil monster. Corporations are full of people like Potter, kind to those near and dear to them, but absolutely isolated from the deeper human reality of the poor everywhere.
“I would often fly on a corporate aircraft to go to meetings. And I just thought that was a great way to travel. It is a great way to travel. You’re sitting in a luxurious corporate jet, leather seats, very spacious. And I was served my lunch by a flight attendant who brought my lunch on a gold-rimmed plate. And she handed me gold-plated silverware to eat it with. And then I remembered the people that I had seen in Wise County. Undoubtedly, they had no idea that this went on, at the corporate levels of health insurance companies.”
Potter had had it. He went to Congress and testified.
“The industry and its backers are using fear tactics, as they did in 1994, to tar a transparent and accountable, publicly accountable health care option as, quote, “government-run health care.” What we have today, Mr. Chairman, is Wall Street-run health care that has proven itself an untrustworthy partner to its customers, to the doctors and hospitals who deliver care and to the state and federal governments that attempt to regulate it.”