Excerpt from Deadly Spin by Wendell Potter, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Deadly Spin

An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans

by Wendell Potter

Deadly Spin by Wendell Potter X
Deadly Spin by Wendell Potter
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2010, 288 pages
    Sep 2011, 304 pages

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Stacey Brownlie

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Print Excerpt

AHIP - and every PR person in the health insurance industry - had been trying to get information about Moore's intentions since July 2004, when he had mentioned to a reporter that his next film would be about the U.S. health care system. Most of us had feared it was just a matter of time before he and his film crew began showing up at our corporate headquarters demanding to talk to our CEOs, or worse, waiting at their homes.

In anticipation of those tactics - which he had used in most of his other films - I met with corporate security to develop a plan to make sure that managers at every CIGNA office knew what to do in the event that Moore showed up at their doorstep. I also scheduled mediatraining sessions with all of the company's top executives, equipping them with pithy things to say and pointers on how not to look like a deer caught in the headlights if they got ambushed leaving their home or getting out of their limo.

Above all, we in the industry strove to keep our activities and plans close to the vest. Fearful that an internal memo or e-mail might be leaked to the media or wind up in Moore's hands, AHIP advised all of its member companies not to put Moore's name or anything remotely related to his project in writing. AHIP didn't want insurance companies to appear to be on the defensive. In December 2004, it was disclosed that at least six drug companies had been warning their employees, in internal e-mails, to keep an eye out for Moore. When one of the e-mails was leaked, Moore went straight to the media with it, knowing that the drug companies had unwittingly given him exactly what he needed to generate early interest in his movie.

Determined to avoid the same scenario, insurers were giving their employees the same instructions, but not in writing. AHIP was so cautious that its staff was instructed to use the code term "Hollywood" in communications to company executives about Moore and his movie.

In one of her few written communications about Moore, AHIP president Karen Ignagni sent a note to her board of directors in late 2004 about "health care and Hollywood." Ignagni had charged AHIP's communications staff and PR agencies with the task of searching for every mention of the movie they could find, and they had come across a brief story in the blog Cinematical, which read in part, "Though he's clearly passionate about exposing the problems with American health care, Moore still seems to be struggling a bit with the film- after all, he says, 'everyone knows that health care is a mess in this country.' His goal, then, seems to be less education than motivation: Moore hopes that [Sicko] 'pushes health care to the top of the public agenda' and, presumably, forces politicians to get involved."

It Never Hurts to Plan Ahead

In late May 2007, ten days after Sicko's Cannes premiere, the top public relations executives of the country's biggest health insurers fl ew to Philadelphia to be briefed on AHIP's multipronged strategy to discredit both Moore and his movie.

The meeting was being held in Philadelphia instead of Washington because the chair of AHIP's Strategic Communications Committee was CIGNA's CEO, H. Edward Hanway, and he wanted to host the meeting close to home. It was the second time in two weeks that the group had met there. Three days before Sicko's premiere, they had convened to hear Bill McInturff, partner and cofound er of Public Opinion Strategies, a national Republican and corporate research firm, disclose the results of four focus groups and three national polls his firm had conducted for AHIP in recent months to determine Americans' attitudes on the need for health care reform.

McInturff, who was later to be lead pollster for the 2008 McCain- Palin campaign, has had a long association with the health insurance industry, going back to the early 1990s. He earned his chops when he teamed up with the po liti cal con sul tants and creative team at ad agency Goddard Claussen to create the "Harry and Louise" commercials, which helped scuttle the Clinton health care reform plan in 1994. He has played a key role ever since in helping the industry defeat any federal legislation that has posed a serious threat to insurers' profitability.

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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