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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They then mentioned an ally that most of us had never heard of, Health Care America. It had been created by AHIP and APCO for the sole purpose of attacking Moore and his contention that people in countries with government-run systems spent far less and got better care than people in the United States. The sole reason Health Care America exists, they said, was to talk about the shortcomings of government-run systems.

Unlike the Galen Institute and AEI, Health Care America was a front group, funded by money from the health insurance industry and other special interests, that APCO would set up and run out of its offi ces. Although Schooling didn't disclose this at the meeting, the person who would serve as the media contact for Health Care America would be APCO employee Bill Pierce, a man who had served in the top communications job at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, another insurance trade group, and as a public affairs officer at the Department of Health and Human Ser vices during the George W. Bush administration, before joining APCO as a senior vice president.

Creating Health Care America - which would spring into action as soon as Sicko hit theaters in the United States - was deemed necessary because of the steady and alarming erosion in Amerians' opposition to government-run systems, as borne out by McInturff's research. Health Care America would lead the effort to restore Americans' fear of government-run health care.

While Health Care America and the industry's allies would be doing the fearmongering, AHIP and insurers would try to persuade the public as well as lawmakers that the industry had a legitimate reason to exist. One of the key messages AHIP would stress in every media interview about health care reform during the coming months was that this time the industry would be "bringing solutions to the table," and would be willing to make certain concessions when Congress began drafting reform legislation. This would be the part of its PR charm offensive that insurers would want the public to see.

The part they would not want the public to see, however, was their effort to depict Moore as such a polarizing figure - loved by leftwingers and liberal activists but viewed with suspicion by more conservative voters - that Democrats would talk positively about Sicko at their own peril. The goal was to make Moore radioactive to centrist Demo crats in particular. The plan included recruiting political pundits, including some Democrats, to articulate that threat. AHIP and APCO would also reach out to political reporters and try to frame the movie as an effort on the part of Moore and other liberals to drive the agenda to the political left.

Tuffin and Schooling wrapped up their presentation with a "worstcase scenario" plan. If Sicko showed signs of being as influential in shaping public opinion on health care reform as An Inconve nient Truth had been in changing attitudes about climate change, then the industry would have to consider implementing a plan "to push Moore off the cliff." They didn't elaborate, and no one asked what they meant by that. We knew they didn't mean it literally - that a hit man would be sent to take Moore out. Rather, an all-out effort would be made to depict Moore as someone intent on destroying the free-market health care system and with it, the American way of life.

Too Bad the CIA Isn't This Efficient

A few days later, my assistant brought me a one-and-a-half-inch-thick unmarked three-ring binder. The only indications that it came from AHIP were a few references in the table of contents to a white paper the organization had produced on the Canadian health care system and a few other documents on AHIP's reform proposals.

The binder contained responses to just about any conceivable question a reporter might ask about the movie or government-run systems, but in keeping with AHIP's ban on even mentioning Moore or Sicko in writing, there were no specific references to either. AHIP sent the binder to all of the PR chiefs who participated in the Philadelphia meeting to equip us with negative anecdotes and statistics about any of the health care systems depicted in Sicko and to remind us to always mention in our conversations with anyone about the movie that Americans do not want a government takeover of their health care system. The phrase "government takeover" is one that has tested extremely well over the years and has been central to every campaign the industry has conducted in recent de cades to defeat reform efforts, including the Clinton proposal in 1994. The industry has paid Mc- Inturff and other consultants and pollsters millions of dollars to craft and test such phrases in focus groups and surveys. Knowing from that research that many Americans react negatively to more government involvement in their lives, particularly if it involves higher taxes, AHIP ensured that a warning against a government takeover was included in the briefing packets for lawmakers in Washington, the industry's business allies, and conservative pundits, talk show hosts, and editorial writers.

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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