Health insurance companies funneled thousands of dollars into fake grassroots organizations to discredit Michael Moore's film Sicko, according to the former vice president of corporate communications for the insurance giant Cigna Corp.
In an interview with Democracy Now, Wendell Potter says health insurance companies set up front groups to criticize the film Sicko because they worried it would create support for a single-payer health care system in the United States.
"We felt that this movie would have such an impact that it would really pave the way for legislation to be passed that could be very detrimental to the insurance industry," said Potter. "So it was very important for the insurers to attack this movie as fiercely as possible."
"In this case, there was a front group that was set up called Health Care America, and the sole purpose for it to be set up was to attack Michael Moore and to attack the notion of a single-payer system in this country," he added.
Health Care America claimed to be "representing consumers" but was funded entirely by insurance companies and run by the public relations firm APCO Worldwide.
The front group was never exposed by any journalists and was quoted extensively, says Potter.
In June of 2007, for instance, the New York Times quoted a Health Care America spokesman as saying that Sicko represented a move toward socialism, but the report did not mention Health Care America's funding.
The goal of the insurance companies campaign against Moore was "to make sure that people saw him as a Marxist, as a socialist, and that he was going to be destroying the American Dream," Potter said.
Moore said the interview "is a chilling look inside how easy it is to manipulate our mainstream media -- and just how worried the health insurance companies were that the American people might demand a true universal health care system."
In an interview yesterday, Potter said that while he is disappointed the health care reform bill recently passed did not include a public option, President Barack Obama had "no choice" because of the power of the insurers.
The insurance companies are "unbelievably influential on Capitol Hill," said Potter.
"What I'm trying to do as I write and speak out against the insurance industry I was a part of for nearly two decades is to inform Americans that when they hear isolated stories of long waiting times to see doctors in Canada and allegations that care in other systems is rationed by 'government bureaucrats,' someone associated with the insurance industry wrote the original script," Potter wrote at CNN in 2009.
In related news, it was reported that health insurance companies gave $86.2 million to the US Chamber of Commerce last year to oppose the health care reform bill while promising to support reform.
Potter is now a senior fellow at the Center for Media and Democracy.