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Wendell Potter

Wendell Potter

An interview with Wendell Potter

Former health insurance PR executive Wendell Potter exposes and speaks out against the devious policies and practices he once defended, and in a letter to readers provides helpful resources for those trying to navigate the American health care system.

This page includes both an interview with Wendell Potter (see video below) in which he speaks out against the current American health care system, and (below) a letter to readers in which he provides useful resources and advice for those seeking adequate care.

Former health insurance PR executive Wendell Potter exposes and speaks out against the devious policies and practices he once defended.





A letter from Wendell Potter on American health care reform and a list of useful references to help those seeking adequate care

Since I started speaking out about the abuses of the health insurance industry and explaining why Americans have put up with the most expensive and one of the most dysfunctional health care systems on the planet, countless people have asked me to intercede on their behalf with an insurance company that has refused to pay for care they need. Many others are among the 51 million Americans without coverage - or the 25 million who are underinsured. They've asked me if I can help them find decent coverage they can afford. Hundreds of people just want to know what they can do to make sure health care reform keeps going forward and how they can get involved in the fight for a more rational and equitable system. More than a few have asked me to explain how the Affordable Care Act, which President Obama signed into law on March 23, 2010, will affect them and their families.

I wish I could help them all and answer everyone's questions individually. Since that's not possible, I decided to compile a list of resources for this paperback edition of Deadly Spin. As you'll see, it runs the gamut from useful government websites to unions and advocacy groups. At the very top of the list is a site that gets better just about every day: www.healthcare.gov. Created and constantly updated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the site would not be possible if the health care reform law had not been enacted. Few people realize it, but the law requires health insurers and health care providers to provide much more information than they've ever disclosed in the past. HHS is not only compiling all this new information, but it's also making it available in ways that enable consumers to make comparisons among insurers and providers with just a few clicks of a mouse. I encourage you to become a regular visitor to the site.

I also encourage you to get involved and stay involved in the ongoing battle for a health care system that meets the needs of all Americans. The Affordable Care Act was a start, but it is just that: a start. I call it the end of the beginning of reform. You will find many organizations, at both the state and national levels that will welcome your participation. (To be better armed for the ongoing battle with the tools and techniques of public relations that I describe in this book - the ethical one, that is - check out the PR toolkit I have developed and made available for free at www.wendellpotter.com.)

One last bit of advice: If your insurance company denies you coverage for care your doctor says you need, don't take that as a final decision. You have rights - including some new ones under the Affordable Care Act - that you should know about and exercise. Go to www.healthcare.gov and explore some of the other resources listed below to learn more about them. At the very least, start the appeals process. Insurers know that most people give up because they don't know their rights or are intimidated at the very thought of trying to get a denial reversed. If you're not well enough to do it yourself, ask a friend or family member to help or contact one or more of the organizations in this resource guide and ask if they can advocate on your behalf.

Above all, be a squeaky wheel if you're getting the runaround from your insurer. Don't just call the member services number on your ID card. Get the main number for your insurance company and call it, demanding to speak to the CEO. You won't get him or her on the line, but you will get somebody's attention. Tell them you plan to take your case to the media and your elected state and federal representatives. If you've done that already, tell them so. If you haven't, do it. Contact a consumer reporter at a local TV station and a health care reporter at your newspaper. They might take a pass on your story, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Give it a shot. And take your case to your state legislators, members of Congress, and U.S. senator. They work for you. Make sure they all know your name. Be a pest if necessary. Remember, the only wheels that get any grease are the squeaky ones.


Government and Quasi-Government Sources

  • HealthCare.gov (www.healthcare.gov) is an official government website that provides information on finding insurance options, comparing care quality, and understanding the new law. It also has a section of frequently asked questions.


  • HealthFinder.gov (www.healthfinder.gov) is another excellent government site that provides an encyclopedia of more than sixteen hundred health topics as well as interactive tools to check your health and get personal advice.


  • Medicare.gov (www.medicare.gov) is the official government site for Medicare beneficiaries. It provides information on Medicare billing, enrollment, benefits, discount drug cards, and long-term care. The site also includes a glossary of terms and a variety of search tools to help enrollees compare health plan options, locate participating physicians, and compare nursing homes.


  • Medline Plus (www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus) makes available information from the National Library of Medicine (NLM), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other government agencies and health-related organizations. It also provides access to medical journal articles and has extensive information about drugs, an illustrated medical encyclopedia, interactive patient tutorials, and current health news.


  • Federal Citizen Information Center (FCIC) (www.pueblo.gsa.gov; 888-8-PUEBLO 888-878-3256) answers questions about federal agencies, programs, and services, and provides access to hundreds of consumer publications.


  • National Association of Insurance Commissioners (www.naic.org; 816-783-8300) assists state insurance regulators "in serving the public interest." The site also contains useful information for consumers and a list of state insurance commissioners (www.naic.org/documents/members_membershiplist.pdf).


  • Rural Assistance Center (www.raconline.org; 800-270-1898), a project of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, helps rural communities and other rural stakeholders gain access to a broad range of available programs, funding, and research that can enable them to provide health and human services to rural residents.


Consumer Interest Groups

  • AARP (www.aarp.org; 888-687-2277) offers information on housing, insurance, funeral practices, eligibility for public benefits, financial security, transportation, and consumer protection issues on behalf of midlife and older consumers.


  • American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org; 800-227-2345) is a nationwide, community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem.


  • American Heart Association (www.heart.org; 800-242-8721) is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to reduce disability and death from cardiovascular diseases and stroke.


  • American Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.org; 800-342-2383) is a national organization whose mission is to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of people affected by the disease.


  • Autism Speaks (www.autismspeaks.org; 212-252-8584) is the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and cure for autism.


  • Better Business Bureau (BBB) (www.bbb.org/us/consumers; 703-276-0100) offers a variety of consumer services, including educational materials, information on charities and other organizations seeking public donations, and mediation and arbitration services.


  • Coalition Against Insurance Fraud (www.insurancefraud.org; 202-393-7330) is an organization of consumers, government agencies, and insurers "dedicated to combating all forms of insurance fraud."


  • Consumers Union (CU) (www.consumersunion.org; 914-378-2000) is an independent, nonprofit organization "whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves." CU created ConsumerReportsHealth.org and the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center "to educate and empower consumers to make more informed health-care decisions and to help change the market."


  • Consumer Watchdog (www.consumerwatchdog.org; 310-392-0522) is a nonprofit organization "dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers... [and] taking on politicians of both parties and the special interests that fund them."


  • Families USA (www.familiesusa.org; 202-628-3030) is a national nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization "dedicated to the achievement of high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans." Its site also provides an extensive list of research organizations and state-based advocacy groups (www.familiesusa.org/resources/related-links/).


  • HealthInsuranceInfo.net (https://ihcrp.georgetown.edu; 202-687-0880), a project of the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, provides online consumer guides for each state and the District of Columbia. It also provides summaries of laws that have been enacted "to protect people when they are trying to get and keep health insurance."


  • Medicare Rights Center (www.medicarerights.org; 212-869-3850) is a national, nonprofit consumer service organization that works to ensure access to affordable health care for older adults and people with disabilities through counseling and advocacy, educational programs, and public policy initiatives.


  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org; 800-950-6264) is a grassroots mental health advocacy organization.


  • National Consumers League (nclnet.org; 202-835-3323), founded in 1899, bills itself as "America's pioneer consumer advocacy organization." It focuses on consumer health and safety protection as well as fairness in the marketplace and workplace.


  • National Council on Aging (www.ncoa.org; 202-479-1200) advocates on behalf of older adults and community organizations that serve them.


  • National Multiple Sclerosis Society (www.nationalmssociety.org; 800-344-4867) is a nationwide organization with chapters in all fifty states that provides education programs and furthers MS advocacy and research.


  • National Senior Citizens Law Center (www.nsclc.org; 202-289-6976) advocates for people with limited resources and income and provides them with access to the judicial system.


  • Public Citizen (www.citizen.org; 202-588-1000) represents consumer interests in Congress, the courts, government agencies, and the media. Its divisions include Auto Safety, Congress Watch, Critical Mass (Energy & Environment Program), Global Trade Watch, the Health Research Group, and the Litigation Group.


National Advocacy and Consumer Groups and Unions

  • Alliance for a Just Society (www.allianceforajustsociety.org; 206-568-5400) is a national organization whose affiliates are member-based groups representing low-income people, immigrants, and people of color. The Alliance "is committed to advancing racial and economic justice and, with its partners in the 24-state Health Rights Organizing Project, is a leader in the fight to address racial and ethnic disparities through health reform."


  • Grass Roots Organizing (GRO) (www.gromo.org; 877-581-9595) is a membership-driven social justice organization. GRO works to "hold corporate America accountable and advance health care for all, housing rights, food security and other social-economic justice reforms."


  • Health Care for America Now (HCAN) (www.healthcareforamericanow.org; 202-454-6200) is "a national grassroots campaign of more than 1,000 organizations in 46 states representing 30 million people dedicated to winning quality, affordable health care." A leading advocate of federal health care reform, it is now focused on implementing and improving comprehensive health care reform by helping people become citizen lobbyists.


  • Health Care Now! (www.healthcare-now.org; 800-453-1305) is a grassroots organization with organizers and activists in more than three hundred cities in all fifty states that addresses the health insurance crisis in the U.S. by educating and advocating for the passage of single-payer health care legislation.


  • Main Street Alliance (www.mainstreetalliance.org; 603-831-1835) is a national network of small business coalitions. "MSA created opportunities for everyday small business owners to speak for themselves throughout the debate over health reform and is now working to make sure that reform is implemented to benefit true small businesses, not the insurance industry and special interests."


  • National Education Association (www.nea.org; 202-822-7080) represents educators throughout the country as well as at U.S. facilities around the world that. Among other things, the organization "advocates for quality, comprehensive, and affordable health care" to ensure that "educators and their students come to school ready to work and ready to learn."


  • Physicians for a National Health Program (www.pnhp.org; 312-782-6006) is a nonprofit research and education organization of eighteen thousand physicians, medical students, and health professionals who support single-payer national health insurance.


  • Service Employees International Union (SEIU) (www.seiu.org; 202-730-7206) is a 2.2 million-member organization "dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society... SEIU members built a national movement over more than a decade to support the passage of a health care law that would ensure that everyone in America had access to quality, affordable health care."


  • USAction (www.usaction.org; 202-263-4567) is a federation of twenty-four state affiliates and partners "that organize for a more just America." (USAction also cofounded Health Care for America Now and serves as cochair of its steering committee).


  • Young Invincibles (www.younginvincibles.org; 202-339-9338) is a national organization founded to educate, inform, and represent the interests of eighteen- to thirty-four-year-olds in health care reform.


State-Based Advocacy and Consumer Groups

  • Alabama: Health Care for Everyone Alabama (www.healthcareforeveryone-alabama.org; 205-266-4928)

  • Alaska: Alaska Center for Public Policy (www.acpp.info; 907-276-2277)

  • Arkansas: Arkansas Community Organizations (www.arkansascomm.org; 501-376-7151)

  • Arizona: Living United for Change in Arizona (www.luchaaz.org; 602-388-9745)

  • California: California OneCare (www.californiaonecare.org; 888-442-4255), California Partnership (www.california-partnership.org; 213-385-8010), Health Access California (www.health-access.org; 916-497-0923)

  • Colorado: Colorado Consumer Health Initiative (www.cohealthinitiative.org; 303-839-1261), Colorado Progressive Action (www.coprogressiveaction.org; 303-863-8390)

  • Connecticut: Connecticut Citizen Action Group (www.ccag.net; 860-233-2181), United Action Connecticut (www.uact4justice.org; 860-882-3849)

  • Delaware: Delaware Health Care Commission (www.dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dhcc; 302-739-2730)

  • Florida: Florida Consumer Action Network (www.fcan.org; 813-877-6712)

  • Georgia: Georgians for a Healthy Future (www.healthyfuturega.org; 404-567-5016)

  • Hawaii: Hawaii Coalition for Health (www.h-c4h.org; 808-622-2655)

  • Illinois: Citizen Action/Illinois and Illinois Main Street Alliance (www.citizenaction-il.org; 312-427-2114)

  • Iowa: Iowa Citizen Action Network (www.Iowacan.org; 515-277-5077)

  • Maine: Maine People's Alliance (www.mainepeoplesalliance.org; 207-797-0967)

  • Maryland: Progressive Maryland (www.progressivemaryland.org; 301-495-7004)

  • Massachusetts: Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (www.masspirg.org; 617-292-4800), Massachusetts Health Care for All (www.hcfama.org; 617-350-7279)

  • Michigan: Michigan Citizen Action (www.michcitizenaction.org; 269-349-9170), Progress Michigan (www.progressmichigan.org; 517-999-3646)

  • Minnesota: TakeAction Minnesota (www.takeactionminnesota.org; 651-641-6199)

  • Missouri: Cover Missouri (www.covermissouri.org; 314-345-5574)

  • Montana: Montana Organizing Project (www.montanaorganizingproject.org; 406-529-8497)

  • Nebraska: Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest (https://neappleseed.org/; 402-438-8853)

  • Nevada: Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (www.planevada.org; 702-791-1965)

  • New Hampshire: New Hampshire Citizens Alliance (www.nhcitizensalliance.org; 603-225-2097)

  • New Jersey: New Jersey Citizen Action (www.njcitizenaction.org; 732-246-4772)

  • New Mexico: Health Action New Mexico (www.healthactionnm.org; 877-867-1095)

  • New York: Citizen Action of New York (www.citizenactionny.org; 518-465-4600), Health Care for All New York (www.hcfany.org; 212-614-5401)

  • North Carolina: Action NC (www.actionnc.org; 704-625-4050), North Carolina Social Justice Project (www.ncsjp.org; 919-295-2870)

  • North Dakota: NDPeople.org (www.ndpeople.org; 701-527-0060)

  • Ohio: ProgressOhio (www.progressohio.org; 614-441-9144)

  • Oregon: Oregon State Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG) (www.ospirg.org; 503-231-4181)

  • Pennsylvania: Keystone Progress (www.keystoneprogress.org; 610-990-6300), Penn ACTION (www.pennaction.org; 215 880-6142), The Pennsylvania Health Access Network (https://pahealthaccess.org; 215-557-0822)

  • Rhode Island: Ocean State Action (www.oceanstateaction.org; 401-463-5368)

  • Tennessee: Tennessee Citizen Action (www.tnca.org; 615-736-6040), Tennessee Health Care Campaign (www.tenncare.org; 877-431-7083)

  • Texas: Center for Public Policy Priorities (www.cppp.org; 512-320-0222)

  • Utah: Utah Health Policy Project (www.healthpolicyproject.org; 801-433-2299)

  • Vermont: Vermont Public Interest Research Group (www.vpirg.org; 802-223-5221), Vermont Workers' Center (ww.workerscenter.org; 802-861-4892)

  • Virginia: Virginia Organizing (www.virginia-organizing.org; 434-984-4655)

  • Washington: Washington Community Action Network (www.washingtoncan.org; 206-389-0050)

  • West Virginia: West Virginia Citizen Action Group (www.wvcag.org; 304-346-5891)

  • Wisconsin: Citizen Action of Wisconsin (https://citizenactionwi.org; 414-476-4501)

  • Wyoming: Equality State Policy Center (www.equalitystate.org; 307-472-5939)

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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