As Democrats prepare to debate health care reform during the last debate before the first votes, a former top insurance company executive warned about one key talking point that he helped the insurance companies push.
Wendell Potter laid out his warning in a new op-ed for The New York Times.
“There’s a dangerous talking point being repeated in the Democratic primary for president that could affect the survival of millions of people, and the finances of even more. This is partly my fault,” Potter admitted.
“When the candidates discuss health care, you’re bound to hear some of them talk about consumer ‘choice.’ If the nation adopts systemic health reform, this idea goes, it would restrict the ability of Americans to choose their plans or doctors, or have a say in their care,” he explained. “It’s a good little talking point, in that it makes the idea of changing the current system sound scary and limiting. The problem? It’s a P.R. concoction.”
“And right now, somewhere in their plush corporate offices, some health care industry executives are probably beside themselves with glee, drinking a toast to their public relations triumph. I should know: I was one of them,” he continued.
“To my everlasting regret, I played a hand in devising this deceptive talking point about choice when I worked in various communications roles for a leading health insurer between 1993 and 2008, ultimately serving as vice president for corporate communications,” Potter wrote. “Now I want to come clean by explaining its origin story, and why it’s both factually inaccurate and a political ploy.”
He went on to explain how public opinion researchers like Frank Luntz urged the industry to use the word “choice” to push back against reforms that would threaten their profit margins.
“But those of us who held senior positions for the big insurers knew that one of the huge vulnerabilities of the system is its lack of choice. In the current system, Americans cannot, in fact, pick their own doctors, specialists or hospitals — at least, not without incurring huge ‘out of network’ bills,” he explained. “Not only does the current health care system deny you choice within the details of your plans, it also fails to provide many options for the plan itself. Most working Americans must select from a limited list made by their company’s chosen insurance provider (usually a high-deductible plan or a higher-deductible plan).”
“This presented a real problem for us in the industry. Well aware that we were losing the ‘choice’ argument, my industry colleagues spent millions on lobbying, advertising and spin doctors — all intended to muddy the issue so Americans might believe that reform would somehow provide ‘less choice.’ Recently, the industry launched a campaign called ‘My Care, My Choice’ aimed in part at convincing Americans that they have choice now — and that government reform would restrict their freedom. That group has been spending large sums on advertising in Iowa during this presidential race,” Potter explained.
The former health insurance executive was shocked that some Democratic Party presidential candidates were repeating the industry’s talking points.
“What’s different now is that it’s the Democrats parroting the misleading ‘choice’ talking point — and even using it as a weapon against one another. Back in my days working in insurance P.R., this would have stunned me. It’s why I believe my former colleagues are celebrating today,” Potter wrote. “My advice to voters is that if politicians tell you they oppose reforming the health care system because they want to preserve your ‘choice’ as a consumer, they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re willfully ignoring the truth. Either way, the insurance industry is delighted. I would know.”
I owe the American people an apology.
Please don’t fall for this trick from the health insurance industry (and the politicians they generously fund) that I was partly responsible for. https://t.co/mlwzPyFWa1
— Wendell Potter (@wendellpotter) January 14, 2020
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