Wendell Potter

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Wendell Potter
Wendell Potter - Montrose Street - cropped.jpg
Potter in 2010

Wendell Potter (born July 16, 1951) is an American expert on, plus outspoken insider-turned-critic of, the U.S. private health insurance industry -- particularly HMOs, and the sometimes-hidden tactics insurers can use to increase their profits by creatively denying policyholders their healthcare benefits when needed the most. Potter is also an advocate for major reforms of the industry, and even single payer insurance, in some instances. Until his 2008 resignation, he was vice president of corporate communications for CIGNA,[1] one of the United States' largest health insurance companies. In June 2009, he testified against the HMO industry in the U.S. Senate as a whistleblower.[1][2][3][4] Now a senior analyst at the Center for Public Integrity, a fellow at the Center for Media and Democracy, and a consumer liaison representative to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, among other positions, he has shared his unique expertise in high-profile interviews with Bill Moyers and other news outlets. Potter also contributes bi-weekly to The Huffington Post, including an "Ask Wendell" feature (in which he responds to readers' health care questions). In 2013 he also began contributing articles to Healthinsurance.org.[5]

Life and career[edit]

Potter was born on July 16, 1951, in Banner Elk, North Carolina, and grew up in Mountain City, Tennessee. Because the town of Mountain City did not have a hospital, Blaine and Pearl Potter traveled to Banner Elk when Pearl went into labor.[6] The first in his family to graduate from college, Potter graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1973. At the university, Potter edited the student newspaper Daily Beacon.[7]

Potter began his journey towards resigning and becoming a whistleblower in July 2007, when he saw a touring free clinic run by Remote Area Medical in rural Virginia.

"What he saw appalled him. Hundreds of desperate people, most without any medical insurance, descended on the clinic from out of the hills. People queued in long lines to have the most basic medical procedures carried out free of charge. Some had driven more than 200 miles from Georgia. Many were treated in the open air. Potter took pictures of patients lying on trolleys on rain-soaked pavements."[3]

Potter resigned in 2008 and became an active voice on health care reform in 2009, as it became clear to him that the insurance industry and its allies were having a distorting effect on the national debate.[8][9]

On September 15, 2009, Potter appeared before the United States House of Representatives Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. Potter said in his opening statement that if Congress "fails to create a public insurance option to compete with private insurers, the bill it sends to the president might as well be called the Insurance Industry Profit Protection and Enhancement Act."[10]

Potter's November 2010 book Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans details much of the industry's deceitful tactics, putting them in historical context by drawing parallels to the tobacco industry and the history of manipulative public relations, gives a history of health reform, and shares his own personal journey. In a January 2011 interview with Robert W. McChesney, Potter was said to have written:[11]

"Since I walked away as head of communications at a top health insurance company in May 2008, I've worked tirelessly as an outspoken critic of corporate PR and the distortion and fear manufactured by America’s health insurance industry. It is a PR juggernaut that is bankrolled by millions of dollars, rivaling lobbying budgets and underwriting many "non-partisan" and "grassroots" organizations."

In an interview published in 2011 by InsuranceQuotes.com, Potter said: "It’s to the insurers’ advantage for it to be complicated and confusing and hard to deal with insurance companies. They profit as a result of the confusion."[12]



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