Democrat presidential hopefuls were testing the waters and healthcare reform was sure to become a major issue, with tentative talk about a government-backed single-payer approach. Progressives anticipated the release of the film. Not so with for-profit insurance and other healthcare for-profits industries.
Kingsport’s Wendell Potter, at the time, had not yet become a whistleblower against big insurance and other healthcare interests. He was then Cigna’s vice-president in charge of PR.
He still tells of how he and other industry spin-masters went to battle against a movie. They couldn’t risk ordinary people saying “Why can’t we have what Canadians have?” after watching a string of ordinary Canadians, Europeans, and Cubans talk about what it’s like to have worry-free quality healthcare access without having to go through an insurance company.
Nor did they want people to hear discussions about how it was accomplished and the economic benefits. So they projected Michael Moore as a dangerous socialist extremist out of touch with American values and out to destroy capitalism. They, including Wendell, went to Capitol Hill to warn off Democrat legislators from expressing any positive reaction to the documentary. To do so would cost them generous campaign donations from vested healthcare interests, and they would likely face well-funded primary challengers.
Needless to say, the film, though reasonably successful, didn’t have the anticipated broad impact.
After the 2008 election, with the waters thus poisoned by the for-profit healthcare industry, even with a Democrat president and control of both House and Senate, Congress didn’t bother to give single-payer healthcare a hearing. The scare tactics had worked. They were barely able to pass the Affordable Care Act with its important, and life-saving, reforms.
Even that wouldn’t have happened without the profiteers’ finger prints all over the document to protect their interests and keep it overly complex, which still works to their advantage.
In 2008, as a matter of conscience, Wendell resigned from his lucrative position at Cigna with remorse for his role in industry tactics and became a consumer advocate, author, and consultant.
He recently founded an online publication named Tarbell after Ida Tarbell who pioneered investigative journalism in the late 19th and into the 20th century. It’s a gold mine for the latest about American healthcare, especially for unraveling spin from the for-profits. His latest weekly newsletter provided a link to his interview on The Potter Report which fairly took my breath away. It’s titled Meet the Propaganda Outfit Fighting against Medicare for All.
In June of last year, an ad hoc coalition was formed which Wendell calls “the mother of all propaganda machines gearing up in Washington, D.C.”, called the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future. It enables entrenched healthcare for-profits — Big Insurance, Big Pharma, Big Hospitals — to pool resources for waging their campaign against Medicare for All.
They’re worried, you see, because the evidence is in that universal healthcare has traction. They tried to convince Democrat candidates they couldn’t win on Medicare for All and were proven wrong in the midterm election, even in red districts. People understand it now, even a narrow majority of Republicans.
With costs going through the roof, it’s clear our system is not sustainable. Simply put, the insurance industry has sold us a bill of goods. They promised to control costs, but they have no incentive. The higher the costs, the more they can demand in premiums, and the big winners are the executives and shareholders. Though fearing Medicare for All as inevitable, the vested interests are determined to delay it as long as possible.
The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future has nice looking website but that’s all. There’s no physical address, no phone number. As Wendell spells it out, the only place this organization really exists is in the offices of a PR shop called Blue Engine Media which the partnership has hired. And this is where we get a sense of how insidious this thing is. And how smart.
Blue Engine Media has the reputation for being a Democratic firm and has heretofore worked for Democrat or left-leaning causes. It was started by Eric Smith, who was actually head of communications for the Democratic National Committee’s convention committee in 2016. He’s been tied in with all the Democrat bigwigs. No true believer apparently, he was the perfect guy for the ad hoc group to buy. If you go to Blue Engine’s website you’ll see that they’ve now merged with JDA Associates, an experienced far-right media group.
They know what they are doing. Wendell calls it the FUD strategy. Develop talking points to stoke Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt to accomplish two objectives. No. 1, change the national conversation around Medicare for All. No. 2, minimize the potential for this option in healthcare reform to become part of the Democratic Party’s platform in 2020.
It will be internet and social-media based. Expect to be bombarded. They have tons of money.
Judy Garland of Johnson City is a community health care activist.