Potter in 2010
Wendell Potter (born July 16, 1951) is an American whistleblower, author, and former health insurance industry executive. A critic of HMOs, and of the sometimes-hidden tactics insurers can use to increase their profits by creatively denying policyholders their healthcare benefits when needed, Potter is also an advocate for major reforms of the industry, including universal health care. Prior to his resignation in 2008, Potter was vice president of corporate communications for CIGNA, 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. 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.
Wendell Potter was born on July 16, 1951 to Blaine and Pearl Potter. Raised in Mountain City, Tennessee, Potter was born in Banner Elk, North Carolina, since his hometown didn't have a hospital. Potter was the first in his family to complete college, graduating from the University of Tennessee–where he edited the student newspaper Daily Beacon.–in 1973.
Potter was employed by Humana in Kentucky before moving to Pennsylvania to work for CIGNA in 1993. He 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."
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.
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."
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:
"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."
Potter is married and has a son, Alex.
- Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans (November 16, 2010; Bloomsbury Press; ISBN 978-1-60819-281-6)
- The Washington Post, 25 June 2009, Senate Panel Hears of Health Insurers' Wrongs: Ex-Insider Testifies to 'Fear Tactics'
- “They Dump the Sick to Satisfy Investors”: Insurance Exec Turned Whistleblower Wendell Potter Speaks Out Against Healthcare Industry
- The Guardian, 27 July 2009, Whistleblower tells of America's hidden nightmare for its sick poor
- Senate testimony
- Consumer Protections in Industry Crosshairs
- Potter, Deadly Spin, p. 17.
- Potter, Deadly Spin, p. 19.
- Potter, Wendell (2009) "The Health Care Industry vs. Health Reform". Center for Media and Democracy website, retrieved 5 Aug 2009
- Wendell Potter, (1st person) Commentary: How insurance firms drive debate
- The Public Record, Exec Wendell Potter: I Don’t Think Co-ops Have A Chance To Succeed Or Compete
- Media Matters radio interview, January 2011.
- InsuranceQuotes.com, Industry whistleblower Wendell Potter: Health insurers thrive on denial
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- Works by or about Wendell Potter in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Audio interview by Prof. Robert W. McChesney on September 6, 2009.
- Jake Whitney interviews Wendell Potter in Guernica magazine.
- Potter Blasts Senate Panel Rejection of Public Insurance Option - video report by Democracy Now!.
- Interview with Bill Moyers. on July 10, 2009
- Wendell Potter on his new book Deadly Spin - video interview by Democracy Now!
- Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out On How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care, book tour presentation at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, December 7, 2010.