Health insurance whistleblower recommends 'telling things in story form'


Proponents of a Medicare-for-all health finance system in America ought to more aggressively promote their vision in the media with public relations tools, a former private health insurance spokesperson advised.

"Special interests have kicked your butt with the skillful use of language," Wendall Potter, author of "Deadly Spin," told the Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP) at the Murphy Institute for Education and Labor Studies Tuesday.

"You need to have others telling your story for you," he added. "You also need to spend time developing your messaging in ways that will connect people emotionally. That is exactly what the opposition has done."

Potter, a former vice president of corporate communications for Cigna Corp., said that bringing people the facts about a single-payer health system would make their "eyes glaze over."

"You need to start telling things in story form and throwing in data occassionally," he said. "When the industry was seeking to discredit Michael Moore's movie 'Sicko,' they did it by bringing in people from Canada who had stories to tell about how they were ill-treated in the Canadian system, and then make up stuff about the Canadian system."

"I'm not suggesting you make stuff up, but you need to start using your facts and figures in different ways and to start telling stories," he clarified.

Potter recently apologized to Moore for helping the private health insurance lobby attempt to smear the message of his film that criticized the for-profit US health industry.

"I knew when I saw the movie the first time that you really got a lot of it right, and I was really not happy at all to be apart of the effort to discredit the movie, but I was still working for the industry then, so my apologies," Potter told the filmmaker on MSNBC's MSNBC's Countdown last November.

Potter went so far as to suggest to the PNHP group that advocates of a public-financed health care system quit referring to such as a system a "single-payer" because it either has negative connotations among the American public or is too technical for them to grasp easily.

He added that politicians would support a public-financed health care system only when their constituents back it.

Potter, currently a fellow at the Center for Media and Democracy, encouraged advocates to develop a strategy along the lines of a business plan to attract potential affinity groups to their cause.

"When you start thinking strategically, then you can [ask], 'What groups do we need to reach out to be our allies?' and 'Who do we work with to make sure our messaging is right?'" he said.

Health insurance companies gave $86.2 million to the US Chamber of Commerce last year to oppose the health care reform bill, tax records show. The money was used to pay for advertisements, polling, and events to create opposition to the bill.

The PNHP is comprised of 14,000 physicians and 4,000 medical students and health professionals.

This video is from Joe Friendly, broadcast Jan. 11, 2011.

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With reporting by Eric W. Dolan.