CMD’s Wendell Potter Featured on Bill Moyers Journal, Friday, July 10th

The Center for Media and Democracy’s Wendell Potter will be interviewed on the PBS TV program Bill Moyers Journal this Friday, July 10th, at 9PM Eastern time. (For exact times in your area check online).

Wendell Potter, CMD’s Senior Fellow on Health Care, spent more than 20 years as a public relations executive for two large health insurers – Cigna and Humana – but left the industry after witnessing practices he felt harmed American health care consumers. In his own words:

“I am speaking out about how big for-profit insurers have hijacked our health care system and turned it into a giant ATM for Wall Street investors, and how the industry is using its massive wealth and influence to determine what is (and is not) included in the health care reform legislation members of Congress are now writing. I was in a unique position to see not only how Wall Street analysts and investors influence decisions insurance company executives make but also how the industry has carried out behind-the-scenes PR and lobbying campaigns to kill or weaken any health care reform efforts that threatened insurers’ profitability.”

Wendell first went public as an advocate for health care reform as the lead witness at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on June 24th. Since then he has been much in the news media. His TV interview with Bill Moyers will be his first extensive television interview in his new role as journalist and analyst on health care issues for CMD.

Dr. David Himmelstein & Dr. Steffie Woolhandler of PNHP Discuss the “Public Option” and Health Policy

Should Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) support a public Medicare-like option in a market of private plans?


PNHP should tell the truth: The “public plan option” won’t work to fix the health care system for two reasons:

1. It foregoes at least 84% of the administrative savings available through single payer. The public plan option would do nothing to streamline the administrative tasks (and costs) of hospitals, physicians offices, and nursing homes. They would still contend with multiple payers, and hence still need the complex cost tracking and billing apparatus that drives administrative costs. These unnecessary provider administrative costs account for the vast majority of bureaucratic waste. Hence, even if 95% of Americans who are currently privately insured were to join a public plan (and it had overhead costs at current Medicare levels), the savings on insurance overhead would amount to only 16% of the roughly $400 billion annually achievable through single payer.


2. A quarter century of experience with public/private competition in the Medicare program demonstrates that the private plans will not allow a level playing field. Despite strict regulation, private insurers have successfully cherry picked healthier seniors, and have exploited regional health spending differences to their advantage. They have progressively undermined the public plan – which started as the single payer for seniors and has now become a funding mechanism for HMOs, and a place for them to dump the unprofitably ill. A public plan option does not lead toward single payer, but toward the segregation of patients; with profitable ones in private plans and unprofitable ones in the public plan.


Would a public plan option stabilize the health care system, or even be a major step forward?


The evidence is strong that such reform would have at best a modest and temporary positive impact
– a view that is widely shared within PNHP. Indeed, we remain concerned that a public plan option as an element of reform might well be shaped in a manner to effectively subsidize private insurers by requiring patients to purchase coverage while relieving private insurance of the highest risk individuals, stabilizing private insurers for some time and reinforcing their control of the health care system.


Given the above, is it advisable to spend significant effort advocating for inclusion of such reform?


1. We are doctors, not politicians. We are obligated to tell the truth, and must answer for the veracity of our stance to our patients and colleagues over many years. Ours is a very different time horizon and set of responsibilities than politicians’. Falling in line with a consensus that attempts to mislead the public may gain us a seat at the debate table, but abdicates our ethical obligations.

2. The best way to gain a half a pie is to demand the whole thing.


Is fundamental reform possible?  

We remain optimistic that real reform is quite possible, but only if we and our many allies continue to insist on it.