Healthcare Advocates, Bury the Hatchet
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    • SAM HURD

      Wendell Potter, recipient of The Ridenhour Book Prize, talks about Deadly Spin, April 13, 2011.

Last year's Ridenhour Book Prize recipient Wendell Potter, who won for Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Healthcare and Deceiving Americans, has an editorial in the new issue of the Nation. It begins where the Supreme Court left off in its decision to let key parts of the Affordable Care Act stand:

Health insurance executives breathed a sigh of relief when the Supreme Court upheld their favorite part of the Affordable Care Act (the part that is one of the least popular among the rest of us)—the individual mandate. And then, I’m confident, moments after they exhaled, they were on a conference call with their army of lobbyists and PR people to approve a strategy, developed months ago, to gut the provisions that the rest of us do like.

Potter warns that insurance company executives never approach any political challenge without a well-thought-out strategy, something that healthcare advocates would do well to learn from.(Read the full piece here.)

And Potter should know. For decades, he worked in the belly of the beast: the PR department of insurance giant Cigna, where as head of corporate communications in 2007, he presided over a tragic incident of denial of coverage to teenage leukemia patient Nataline Sarkisyan, which spurred widespread protests and negative publicity. When Cigna finally capitulated, it was too late and Sarkisyan died. Devastated upon hearing of the needless death, Potter had a change of heart and penned the industry tell-all, Deadly Spin, that won the 2011 Ridenhour Book Prize, awarded annually to an outstanding work of social significance from the prior publishing year.

In his reasoned Ridenhour acceptance speech, Potter said this of the healthcare act that President Obama had recently signed into law:

There are many other things in the Affordable Care Act, but sadly lawmakers did not have the courage to even try to change the 37-year-old law known as ERISA that made it impossible for the Sarkisyan family to take their insurance company to court when Nataline died. That law enables corporate America to get away with murder and corporate America is so powerful, so influential in this town that very few politicians have dared to try to change the law, or even to try to hold corporations accountable for their actions.

Yes, the good guys scored a few points, but the insurance industry and its allies are pulling out all the stops to take as many of those points away as possible. This week, they unveiled their new front group, which they've named the Choice in Competition Coalition. The words choice and competition were carefully chosen, by the way, because they test especially well in focus groups of average Americans. Rest assured, the insurance industry’s so-called coalition will be a perpetual spin machine designed to make us think that the consumer protections in the law will rob us of our freedoms of choice, and cause our premiums to skyrocket.

Read or watch Potter's Ridenhour speech here.

Tags: aca, deadly spin, obamacare, ridenhour prizes, the nation, wendell potter

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