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Former health care insider calls for reform

BY JORDAN FRIES | NOVEMBER 05, 2009 7:20 AM

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When Wendell Potter learned how many Americans die from being uninsured, he quit his comfortable job of 20 years as the chief corporate spokesman at one of the largest health-care providers in the United States.

The fact that prompted him to resign: One American dies every 12 minutes from not having health insurance, according to a September study in the American Journal of Public Health.

Now, he’s looking to illuminate the dirty secrets behind what he called the greed-based corruption of America’s health-insurance companies.

Potter spoke about health-care reform to a large audience in the IMU Main Lounge on Wednesday night as part of the University Lecture Committee’s series.

“I guess I was a naïve believer, not really knowing everything that was going on outside of public relations,” said Potter, a graduate of the University of Tennessee. “I wanted to keep the good job that I had. I should have objected to their tactics much sooner, and for that I apologize.”

Potter has appeared on CNN and ABC News to discuss the roadblocks to reform, and has been interviewed on the “Bill Moyers’ Journal” and Time magazine.

The major impediments to meaningful reform are the health-insurance giants — which Potter called “the cartel” — receiving large amounts of money through privatized care, he said.

“It is really fitting that I am giving this lecture a few days after Halloween, because it is truly frightening what Congress is doing to fix this,” he said. “We really don’t even have a system at all.”

He aimed his appeal to young people in attendance, placing the burden of their future on their ability to petition for reform.

UI junior Dane Hudson, who attended the lecture, said he was disappointed with the small student turnout but encouraged by Potter’s message.

“It was interesting to get a fresh picture of the industry from someone who previously defended it,” Hudson said. “The lecture was really a reaffirmation of our future. [These are] our lives he is talking about.”

A panel of local medical experts answered questions after Potter’s speech, including Cecilia Norris, the director of the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic.

“We truly live in a sound-bite society,” she said. “We cannot let others think for us in a crisis like this. We must look critically at the source and become skeptical.”

Potter said he believes any type of reform is better than the flawed system in place. But he’s afraid of settling for second-rate services because the health industry’s rhetoric is difficult for regular citizens to understand.

And he should know.

The former insurance company spokesman has seen firsthand how uninsured American citizens live. In his lecture, he recalled a recent trip to rural Virginia.

Uninsured citizens were sleeping in cars and waiting in animal stalls for the chance to know if they were eligible for insurance, he said.

“It is not too late to keep the health-insurance corporations from winning this battle,” Potter said. “But time is running short, and we need the young people to realize their future is now.”


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