Two weeks after the Philadelphia meeting, I was on a crosscountry reconnaissance mission of my own. Although the AHIP staffer who saw the movie in Cannes provided a pretty good report, he did not give many details about how CIGNA was portrayed in the film.
After hearing that the first public screening of the movie would be held in Sacramento on June 12, I asked the head of our state government affairs unit if she could finagle a ticket for me. I wanted to be as prepared as possible to answer questions from the media when they began to fl ood in. The best way to do that would be to see the movie myself. Terry McGann, CIGNA's longtime lobbyist in Sacramento, was able to score a couple of tickets for a colleague and me from California State Assembly speaker Fabian Núñez, a Demo crat from Los Angeles.
The screening was an unofficial premiere. The official premiere would be held four days later in the Michigan town of Bellaire, which is near where Moore and his wife live. Moore had been persuaded by the California Nurses Association and Physicians for a National Health Program - both advocates of a single-payer health care system in the United States- to show the movie in Sacramento first because California lawmakers had twice approved bills creating a single-payer system in the state. Had Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger not vetoed both bills, California would have been the first state in the nation to ban private insurance companies and operate its own government-run health care system, like many of those depicted in Sicko.
After picking up our tickets in McGann's office, my colleague and I walked to the theater, trying to blend in with the thousands of politicians, state government employees, doctors, and nurses who were already in line to see the movie. Once inside, we went to the very back row and took out our pens and notebooks, ready to capture the details of the stories told in the movie by people who claimed that CIGNA had refused to pay for care their doctors had said they needed.
It seemed as if there were more stories about CIGNA than about any other company, although I didn't pay as much attention to how badly Moore treated our competitors. Probably one of the most memorable vignettes in the whole movie was about a hearing- impaired little girl, Annette Noe, whose doctors said she needed cochlear implants in both of her ears. CIGNA initially paid for only one, saying that implantation in both ears would be "too experimental." The girl's father, Doug Noe, was one of twenty-five thousand people who had responded to Moore's call for health insurance horror stories. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons Annette's story made it into the movie is that her father told the CIGNA representative he had been dealing with that he had been in touch with Moore.
"Has your CEO ever been in a movie?" Noe asked the CIGNA guy. The next scene showed CIGNA's fifty-eight-story glass-sheathed headquarters in Philadelphia, where I worked. What viewers heard next was the CIGNA representative calling back and leaving good news on the Noes' answering machine. CIGNA would pay for both implants after all.
I cringed when I heard that, but I wasn't surprised. The squeaky wheel gets the grease in the managed care world. That wasn't the first time CIGNA had delivered good news after a member had complained to the media about a denial. It would not be the last, either. But the movie had an effect on me that I didn't expect. Because of all the experience I'd had handling "horror stories" like the ones depicted, I knew that they were a common occurrence - that many Americans found themselves in similar situations every day. I also found the film very moving and very effective in its condemnation of the practices of private health insurance companies. There were many times when I had to fight to hold back tears. Moore had gotten it right. If I hadn't been with a colleague, I probably would have joined all the others in the audience in giving the movie a standing ovation, just as the people at Cannes did when it was first screened.
Excerpted from Deadly Spin by Wendell Potter. Copyright © 2010 by Wendell Potter. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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