Wendell Potter, My New Hero

I have a new hero.  His name is Wendell Potter, and he is a quiet-spoken, unassuming, middle-aged, white man-a native Tennessean-who is a former insurance company executive.  When he stopped working for Cigna he began to speak out, telling Americans what he saw and did during his more than 15 years in the private health insurance industry. 

I heard him first on the Bob Edwards show on National Public Radio.  The interview was so riveting that I sat in my car in a 95-degree garage to hear it to the end.  I dared not miss a minute of the education he was providing.  Since then I have looked further at his associations and his work in informing the American public about health care reform and the role that private insurance is taking in trying to prevent it from happening.  I find this man to be unassailably credible, primarily because he had nothing to gain (and much to lose) by leaving his cushy insurance job and becoming a truth-teller for his fellow citizens.  He is a man motivated only by the desire to right the wrongs that he has witnessed, and help provide decent health care for all of us.  Those motives are pretty doggone clean when you set them beside the profit motive that all those private insurers are living by. 

It takes courage to hear the truth.  We should all be courageous citizens, tireless in our quest for truth and compassion and dignity for all Americans.  About 99 percent of the time, this seems too flighty and idealistic and just plain difficult.  About 99 percent of the time, we want a quicky sound bite, an extra $10 in our pocket, and the feeling of belonging.  We prefer to feel that our local elected officials (and I’m talking east Tennessee and everywhere that a public option is being opposed) are batting for us and we don’t have to pay too much attention or take up a sign and walk the line for ourselves.  Unfortunately, that is not the truth.  Our local officials don’t want health care reform.  They want to continue to have friends and contributors in the private health insurance industry.  They don’t mind suspending reality to stick to the proscribed script, telling us that health care reform will be bad for us and that the current system is what we want and need. 

When Barack Obama mounted a campaign for president of this country, something happened to me.  I woke up.  I felt something that I thought died with Bobby Kennedy’s assassination.  I felt personal commitment and a sense of responsibility, and I stopped plugging my ears and started writing letters.  I also felt that-just possibly-my words and votes and actions had some small impact here. 

I already made a blog entry today.  I don’t want to be political all the time, nor do I intend the major subject of this blog to change.  But when I listen to Wendell Potter in this interview with Bill Moyers, and recall a conversation in a doctor’s waiting room just a few days ago, a woman confused about the implications of health care reform, but angry at her husband’s impossibly expensive prescription regimen, I have to come back to this topic.  As in Jeremiah 20:9, when he has a message that must come out: “…but His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not,” I feel the urgency and pressure of dispensing this message.

Here’s Wendell Potter:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QwX_soZ1GI.  Please take the time. 



Health Care Discussion Report

What follows is the report submitted to the change.gov website after the health care discussion:

Four people attended the health care discussion, and five more who were unable to attend submitted their ideas in writing and through later conversations.  All of their opinions and situations were considered in preparing this report.  Ages ranged from 20 to mid60s.  All were female.  The group was mixed racially and had very diverse incomes.  Four were in health care, although one nurse and one doctor were retired early due to disability.  Two were self-insured.


Of note:  ____, a self-insured professional,…  health insurance for herself … was exorbitantly priced and came with a $5000 deductible…,  the husband was eligible for Medicare, and he has had problems finding a primary care physician who will accept him into the practice.


___ is a former physician, retired due to disability. She is insured with Medicare only, and is not old enough for a Medicare supplement insurance. Her medications (approximately 10 prescriptions per day, plus chemotherapy every four to six months and a weekly injection), are not all covered by Medicare. She has entered the “doughnut hole” every year since she started on Medicare. Her additional (uncovered) medical expenses have been as much as $7,000 per year.



___ is a student who is on her parent’s health insurance policy. .. now having great difficulty finding health insurance for … have pre-existing conditions.

The group perceived lack of affordable insurance coverage as the most pressing and serious problem facing us. Most found medical care through personal referrals or health insurance provider panels. Most found their health insurance coverage too expensive or inadequate to cover their needs, and had great difficulty paying uncovered medical expenses. Only two expressed that their coverage was affordable and adequate.


Most of the group who had employer-supplied health plans were aware of the employer’s contribution amount for the plan. One group member was an employer, and expressed great difficulty with supplying insurance for their business employees, as their contribution has risen to approximately $500 per employee per month. Everyone agreed that the option of obtaining health insurance that was unrelated to work was desirable, and no one objected to it being non-private.


All of the group was aware of recommended preventive medical procedures. Almost half the group had avoided some of them, due to the expected expense. This was related directly to their conclusion that their insurance coverage was inadequate for their health care needs. All who were present for the group discussion noted that public health matters were given short shrift compared to education and air time spent on issues like the upcoming change in television signal output. We agreed that it would not be difficult to educate citizens on proper use of health care and good preventive measures if money spent on less important public initiatives was put to better use. All of the involved felt that the discussions are a good forum for input into change in the health care arena.

with my signature, etc.  I left out identifying information.  Whew.  Another duty checked off.


Peace, all.


Better Leg, No Thanks to Medicare Part D

There’s a woman on TV who reminds me of one of my sisters.  She has an attractive, open, mobile face with a wide smile and pretty lips.  She’s talking about saving our parents’ financial lives.  Oops, the resemblance ends.  The sister I’m comparing is not the financial analyst of the family.  Nevertheless, several of my sisters are deeply involved with preserving my parents’ way of life, keeping them in their home, and accommodating to their needs as soon-to-be ninety-year-olds.  What a milestone!  We are blessed, not just because it’s nicer to have your parents than to have the grief of their loss, but because we have such a comprehensive, intimate view of what aging can be. 
Because my father’s military career came with excellent health care, my parents never had the concerns that I saw in so many elderly folk that I treated in my healthcare days.  Dealing with people who had only urgent or emergency health care from adolescence to retirement was new to me when I first started training, but it was quickly evident that living without health insurance was common and deadly.  I became accustomed to seeing patients who had ignored medical problems for years, waiting for that moment when they were eligible for Medicare.  It wasn’t instantly deadly for most folks, but was manifest in the high disability rates from neglected or undiagnosed medical problems, the higher mortality for common medical problems in lower socioeconomic groups, and the lower quality of life in the elderly folk in lower socioeconomic groups.  Additionally, there was a racial divide, not a surprise now since a number of studies have documentedthat greater percentages of people of color (compared with white patients) are  offered the less effective course of treatment in common illnesses such as heart disease.  No coincidence that African-American women have worse mortality rates than white women in this country:  early diagnosis depends on education and screening, two things that are deficient in people with less access to health insurance. 
I heard a presidential candidate (not my favorite) mention that the United States of America has the best health care in the world, and I wondered what he was thinking.  Our infant mortality rates are higher (worse) than every European nation, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Cuba and Canada.  Our average height in adulthood (excluding immigrants of origins with shorter stature) is ranked much lower than a century ago, compared with other western nations.  This is felt to reflect prenatal care and childhood nutrition. 
Why am I on this soapbox this morning?  I woke with a big improvement in my cellulitis.  Yesterday I was able to change from a cheap, less effective medication to a very expensive, newer medication which is clinically proved to be more effective in cellulitis.  My insurance is Medicare, coupled with a Medicare prescription supplement.  My supplement didn’t cover the newer medication, and the $118 had to come out of my pocket.  That is not very good coverage, and it’s all that most older folks have (minus the deep pocket to cover the difference).  If I had been forced to stay on the cheap medication and the cellulitis had progressed, forcing a $20,000 hospital stay for three days of IV antibiotics, Medicare would have picked that up. 
So…how smart are we, and how fiscally responsible, to choose elected officials who won’t insure all of the U.S. population?  Just sayin’…