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Context of 'June 2007: Health Care Executive Shocked at Sight of Americans Being Treated in Livestock Stalls, Tents'

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Wendell Potter, a senior health care executive with the insurance giant Cigna, visits a “health care exposition” in Wise, Virginia, not far from his home town. Potter is shocked at what he sees at the Wise County Fairgrounds. As he will later recall (see July 10, 2009), he assumed he would see booths set up for people to get their blood pressure checked and so forth. What he actually sees is doctors providing a range of care in livestock stalls and tents. Some patients are treated while lying on gurneys, under a rainy sky. “And I saw people lined up, standing in line or sitting in these long, long lines, waiting to get care,” he will later say. “People drove from South Carolina and Georgia and Kentucky, Tennessee—all over the region, because they knew that this was being done. A lot of them heard about it from word of mouth. There could have been people and probably were people that I had grown up with. They could have been people who grew up at the house down the road, in the house down the road from me. And that made it real to me.… It was absolutely stunning. It was like being hit by lightning. It was almost—what country am I in? I just—it just didn’t seem to be a possibility that I was in the United States. It was like a lightning bolt had hit me.” Potter will describe himself as “insulated” from the harsh reality of American health care before visiting the expo. “I had a great job. And I had a terrific office in a high-rise building in Philadelphia. I was insulated. I didn’t really see what was going on. I saw the data. I knew that 47 million people were uninsured, but I didn’t put faces with that number.… [W]hen you’re in the executive offices, when you’re getting prepared for a call with an analyst, in the financial medium, what you think about are the numbers. You don’t think about individual people. You think about the numbers, and whether or not you’re going to meet Wall Street’s expectations. That’s what you think about, at that level. And it helps to think that way. That’s why you—that enables you to stay there, if you don’t really think that you’re talking about and dealing with real human beings.” Potter finds it difficult to reconcile his executive lifestyle with relatives and neighbors being treated in livestock stalls. He will eventually resign his position with Cigna. [PBS, 7/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Wendell Potter, Cigna

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Former health insurance executive Wendell Potter (see July 10, 2009), who formerly headed the PR division at Cigna, says that the skyrocketing profits of health care corporations and their executives are directly driving the industry’s opposition to health care reform. According to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the profits of the US’s 10 largest health insurance companies rose 428 percent between 2000 and 2007. In 2000, those 10 companies made a combined profit of $2.4 billion. In 2007, those numbers had risen to $12.9 billion. During that seven-year period, the number of Americans without health insurance rose 19 percent. The CEOs of those 10 firms made an average of $11.9 million in 2007 alone. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow notes that the health insurance industry “bankrolled efforts to kill the last effort at health care reform” in 1994 (see Mid-January - February 4, 1994). In an interview with Maddow, Potter blames the insurance industry for much of the recent spate of “town hall” disruptions that have helped derail debate over health care reform (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-8, 2009, August 8, 2009, and August 10, 2009) “and a lot of the deception that’s going on in terms of disinformation that many Americans apparently are believing.” Potter goes on to note that health insurance firms are making tremendous profits on the steady erosion of paid premiums going to fund medical claims. In 1993, the industry paid out roughly 95 percent of the premiums they took in to claims. In 2007, that number had dropped to 80 percent. Insurance firms also routinely “kick sick people off the rolls when they do get sick or when people get injured.… [A]nd also, they’re paying fewer claims.” The health insurance industry is dead set against the so-called “public option,” Potter says, for the simple reason that a publicly run alternative to private insurance would cost its members profits. [MSNBC, 8/11/2009]

Entity Tags: Wendell Potter, Rachel Maddow

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive with CIGNA who has now become a whistleblower against the industry (see July 10, 2009 and August 10, 2009), says that the raucous and contentious protests at health care “town halls” are the result of what he calls “covert,” or “stealth” efforts by health insurance companies. Potter says he lacks the specifics for the current campaign, but he witnessed and actually took part in similar efforts in earlier years. This year’s efforts follow similar patterns to the ones he was familiar with, he says. “The industry is up to the same dirty tricks this year,” Potter says after meeting with House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who supports the Democrats’ health care reform initiative. “When you hear someone complaining about traveling down a ‘slippery slope to socialism,’ some insurance flack, like I used to be, wrote that,” Potter says. He notes that during his 20 years in the industry, he watched—and participated in—the industry’s funneling money to large public firms who would create “Astroturf,” or fake grassroots, organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, and August 10, 2009) and use friendly conservative media voices. Slaughter says, “[T]he notion that this is going to be something devilish comes from the people who would lose money on it.” [The Hill, 8/12/2009]

Entity Tags: Wendell Potter, Louise Slaughter

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

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