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Former Health Insurance Leader Now Touts Medicare For All

Wendell Potter
Courtesy of Wendell Potter
Wendell Potter, a former health insurance leader who now touts Medicare for All.

Wendell Potter spent two decades in senior positions at major health insurance companies before he became a whistleblower. A crisis of conscience sprung up while he was publicly praising policies that he knew were contributing to the rising number of uninsured and underinsured people in the U.S.

In 2009, he testified before Congress in support of health care reform. Today Potter is the president of Business Initiative for Health Policy, an independent advocacy organization supporting a Medicare for All system. He is also the author of “Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans” (Bloomsbury Press/2010).

He joins host Frank Stasio to talk about his experience in the health insurance industry, the pitfalls of the health insurance system as it stands today and why he says Medicare for All is the answer.

Potter will be at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Asheville on Wednesday, April 10 at 2 p.m and Lenoir-Rhyne University’s Asheville campus at 7 p.m. He will also be at the Trinity Presbyterian Church of Charlotte on Friday, April 12 at 6:30 p.m.


Wendell Potter on the pitfalls of the current health insurance system in the U.S.:

The reality is that health insurance companies not only don't add value, they add cost to the system. We have a multi-payer system in this country. We spend about $3.5 trillion every year. A third of that is largely wasted because it's eaten up by administrative cost made necessary by the fact that we have many private insurance companies around the country. They also have instituted policies that have made it increasingly difficult for people to get the care that they need. We have 34 million people who once again are uninsured. That is going back up again. But we have increasingly people who are under-insured. People who are paying premiums every single month, and they're not able to use their coverage because the deductibles have gotten so high. They don't have the money to pay out of pocket for the care that they need. So they're paying good money for something they simply can't use in many cases.

We still have this notion that the free market works in healthcare, like it does in every other sector of the economy ... [But] the more competition, the more health insurers you have in a given market, the less likely they are to negotiate favorable discounts with big hospital systems. - Wendell Potter

On the economics behind why premiums continually go up:

As healthcare costs go up, a group of people inside every private health insurance company keeps track of medical trend. In other words, what is medical inflation expected to be next year. The insurance companies then take that information, and for next year when the premiums are up for renewal, they will just tack on a little bit – sometimes more than a little bit – to cover that additional cost. So that's why premiums keep going up every single year. It's not because health insurance companies control costs. It's because they are anticipating medical inflation and add a little bit more every year. So we're all paying more.

On the criticism that single-payer healthcare systems lead to long waits for care:

It's a myth that you have these long waits. The reality is that we have the most insidious form of rationing in this country, and waiting – talk about waiting. People wait sometimes forever to get
coverage or to get the care that they need in this country, because they can't afford insurance, or they're in some kind of a plan that has decreased in value year after year after year. And so they don't get the care that they need. That to me is what people should really understand about waiting for care and sometimes waiting until you die.


Amanda Magnus is the executive producer of Embodied, a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships and health. She has also worked on other WUNC shows including Tested and CREEP.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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