Wendell Potter speaks in Bloomington, Ind

By Michela Tindera
Indiana Daily Student, Jan. 17, 2011
More than 415 people filled the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on Sunday as Wendell Potter, former head of corporate communications at health insurance giant CIGNA, attempted to blow the whistle on corporate insurance.
After resigning from his post at CIGNA in May 2008, he began tireless efforts to protest the immoralities of corporate public relations.
By publishing his first book, “Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans” and going on tour, Potter has attempted to shed light on the health care industry.
The book signing and speech by Potter as well as a screening of the related 2007 Michael Moore documentary “Sicko,” which was also a critique of the injustices of the health insurance industry, was sponsored by Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Care Plan.
Considering his 20 years of experience in corporate public relations, first with Humana and then with CIGNA, it may have been difficult to imagine that Potter’s next career move would be to become what Time Magazine calls “the ideal whistleblower” in the campaign against the injustices of the health insurance industry.
“I didn’t think I’d get this involved,” Potter said. “It was very scary, but I decided if I ever had the chance to make a difference, I wanted to.”
Yet it was a personal decision following events during the course of a couple years that made him want to turn in his papers.
“There were three strikes that occurred to me before I decided to resign,” Potter said.
The first strike was the release of “Sicko.” It was part of Potter’s job to discredit this film in order to maintain a positive reputation for CIGNA.
“It was especially daunting to me to disprove because I realized Michael Moore had gotten it right,” Potter said in his speech.
Shortly after, on a visit to his hometown in Tennessee, he came upon a makeshift clinic in nearby Wise County, Va., where hundreds of people were lined up in front of a barn to receive health care.
The death of a CIGNA policyholder was the final strike against the health insurance industry for Potter.
It was also Potter’s job to deal with “squeaky wheels,” or policyholders with complaints. One such family was that of 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan in late 2007.
Sarkisyan was a patient in need of a liver who was eligible for transplant, according to doctors at University of California, Los Angeles. Yet Sarkisyan was deemed ineligible by a CIGNA employee who claimed the surgery would be experimental.
While her surgery was eventually allowed after her family and their lawyers generated enough bad press, CIGNA’s approval came too late. Sarkisyan died within hours of the news from CIGNA.
“That did it for me,” Potter said. “I could not in good conscience continue working.”
Potter said the main reason for the injustices committed by health insurances giants is their greater concern for meeting the expectations of Wall Street shareholders and analysts like Goldman Sachs than the needs of actual patients.
While a health care act repeal may be underway, Potter said this attempt is a smokescreen to allow health insurance companies to strip out consumer protections that would be beneficial.
“It’s a shame that corporations have so much political power,” Bloomington City Council representative Isabel Piedmont-Smith said after Potter’s speech.
However, the health insurance industry is a proponent of some provisions of health care reform, such as the requirement that nearly everyone buy health insurance by 2014 or be severely fined.
“If people were well-informed and not victimized by the industry, it’d be a no-brainer,” said Chris Stacks, Indianapolis physician and member of HCHP. “Health insurance companies do not add any value to the transaction. There’s no point to pay 25 percent to a middleman.”
Potter recommended college students stay informed and get involved to make necessary changes. Students can call congressmen, write letters to the editor of their local newspapers, and stay informed on current events.
“This is important for all of us,” Potter said. “Young people need coverage as they get older. They need to think ahead.”

‘Sicko’ showing draws crowd, emotions

By Kelsey Holder
Indiana Daily Student, Jan. 18, 2011

Advocates of American health care reform filled the chairs of the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on Sunday.
They silenced themselves as IU Jacobs School of Music Sylvia McNair sang an a cappella version of “Down to the River to Pray.”
“As I went down in the river to pray / Studying about that good ol’ way / And who shall wear the robe and crown? / Good Lord, show me the way.”
McNair and guitarist David Gulyas treated the advocates with four other songs: “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow,” “Greensleeves” and “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
“We let them choose the songs they’d be sharing,” said Dr. Rob Stone, director of Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Plan. “They chose well.”
Bloomington residents and other locals were there to watch Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary “Sicko” and speak with the whistle-blower Wendell Potter about his insight to health insurance companies in America.
Potter stopped by the Buskirk-Chumley Theater during his book tour of the newly released “Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans.”
“We thought showing ‘Sicko’ would nicely complement the book tour,” Rob Stone’s wife and fellow advocate Karen Green Stone said.
Rob and Karen housed Potter during his weekend visit and organized the free event sponsored by Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Plan.
John and Rosalie Neel are members of Hoosiers for a Commonsense and ushered the event.
“We’ve never seen ‘Sicko,’” Rosalie said. “We’re very excited.”
The couple, along with other ushers, wore shirts that quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
The fronts of the shirts read “Medicare for All.”
“We’re on Medicare,” John said. “We get the quality that everyone should get.”
Although they receive full benefits from Medicare, they still firmly believe in the Hoosiers for a Commonsense mission.
“We went to our first meeting about a year and a half ago because of an ad in the paper,” John said. “We’ve been going ever since. One meeting is all it takes.”
As the Buskirk-Chumley house filled to more than 415 people, the largest attendance yet of Potter’s book tour, the anxiousness for the 3 p.m. showing of “Sicko” grew.
“The movie ‘Sicko’ itself is a wake-up call,” Potter said. “It is both emotionally affecting and effective. Michael Moore achieved his objective.”
Potter screened the film twice before its release in 2007, while he still held the PR executive position for CIGNA.
“I thought, ‘Oh my, I can’t believe he made a movie this accurate,’” he said. “I knew it’d be a challenge to discredit it.”
Potter confirmed the authenticity of the documentary, admitting that it uncovers a side of health care that most choose not to see.
“The arts have a significant role to play in communicating and reaching people,” he said. “You can reach people on an emotional level. The movie ‘Sicko’ does that.”