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Profile: Cigna

Cigna was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

Wendell Potter (r) being interviewed by Bill Moyers (l).Wendell Potter (r) being interviewed by Bill Moyers (l). [Source: PR Watch (.org)]Former health care executive Wendell Potter, who left the insurance giant Cigna after fifteen years, appears on “Bill Moyers’ Journal.” He was formerly the head of corporate communications before he resigned his position, a post he calls “the ultimate PR job.” He says he was not forced to leave the company, and was extremely well compensated for his duties. He left after realizing that the health care industry is using underhanded and hurtful tactics to undermine the drive towards health care reform. He never went to his bosses with his observations because, he says, “for most of the time I was there, I felt that what we were doing was the right thing. And that I was playing on a team that was honorable. I just didn’t really get it all that much until toward the end of my tenure at Cigna.”
Health Care Expo Changed His Perceptions - In June 2007, Potter recalls, his perceptions were drastically changed by his visit to a health care exposition in Wise, Virginia (see June 2007).
Changing Plans - The industry shifted from selling primarily managed care plans, he says, to what they call “consumer-driven plans.” Despite the name, they are health care plans with high deductibles and limited coverage.
'Highlight Horror Stories' - Moyers shows Potter a copy of an “action plan” devised by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the industry’s trade association. In large gold letters, the plan tells lobbyists and industry representatives to “Highlight horror stories of government-run systems.” Potter says that AHIP and other industry representatives try to paint government-run health care as socialism, and as inevitable failures. “The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them,” he says, “that if you even consider that, you’re heading down on the slippery slope towards socialism. So they have used scare tactics for years and years and years, to keep that from happening. If there were a broader program like our Medicare program, it could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies. So that is their biggest concern.” Moyers also notes that the AHIP plan targets the film Sicko, a 2007 documentary by leftist filmmaker Michael Moore that portrayed America’s health care industry in a dismal light. AHIP’s action plan is to “Position Sicko as a threat to Democrats’ larger agenda.” Potter says that was an effort to discredit the film by using lobbyists and AHIP staffers “to go onto Capitol Hill and say, ‘Look, you don’t want to believe this movie. You don’t want to talk about it. You don’t want to endorse it. And if you do, we can make things tough for you.’” If they did, AHIP would retaliate by running negative ads against the lawmakers in their home districts or other electoral punishments. AHIP focused strongly on the conservative Democratic Leadership Council. Another tactic, as delineated in the memo: “Message to Democratic insiders. Embracing Moore is one-way ticket back to minority party status.” Moyers says that AHIP attempted to “radicalize” Moore and portray him as an extremist who could not be believed. Many politicians used AHIP talking points in discussing Moore and his film. “So your plan worked,” Moyers observes. Potter agrees: “It worked beautifully.” The lesson that was lost from Moore’s film, Potter says, was that Americans “shouldn’t fear government involvement in our health care system. That there is an appropriate role for government, and it’s been proven in the countries that were in that movie.”
Conservative Counter-Strategy - Moyers then displays a memo from Republican strategist Frank Luntz, who in the spring of 2009 wrote a strategy memo for health care reform opponents. The memo reads in part: “First, you have to pretend to support it. Then use phrases like, ‘government takeover,’ ‘delayed care is denied care,’ ‘consequences of rationing,’ ‘bureaucrats, not doctors prescribing medicine.’” He then shows film clips of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and others using Luntz’s talking points in discussions on the floors of Congress. Potter says that many conservatives—Democrats as well as Republicans—“are ideologically aligned with the industry. They want to believe that the free market system can and should work in this country, like it does in other industries. So they don’t understand from an insider’s perspective like I have, what that actually means, and the consequences of that to Americans. They parrot those comments, without really realizing what the real situation is.” He notes that Representative Zach Wamp (R-TN), who grew up very near Potter’s childhood home in Chattanooga, told reporters that half of America’s uninsured don’t want health care, they would rather “go naked and just take the chance of getting sick. They end up in the emergency room costing you and me a whole lot more money.” Potter notes that the word “naked” is an industry term for people who choose not to buy health insurance. He calls Wamp’s comment “ridiculous” and “an example of a member of Congress buying what the insurance industry is peddling.” Moyers cites conservative Democrat Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, as another politician central to the health care reform process who is heavily influenced by corporate lobbyists—two of whom used to work on his own Senate staff. Potter says: “[I]t does offend me, that the vested special interests, who are so profitable and so powerful, are able to influence public policy in the way that they have, and the way that they’ve done over the years. And the insurance industry has been one of the most successful, in beating back any kinds of legislation that would hinder or affect the profitability of the companies.”
Fierce Opposition to Public Option - The “public option,” the idea that the government would extend a non-profit, government-run health care alternative for citizens, is fiercely opposed by the health care industry. Potter says the reason why is “[t]he industry doesn’t want to have any competitor. In fact, over the course of the last few years, has been shrinking the number of competitors through a lot of acquisitions and mergers. So first of all, they don’t want any more competition period. They certainly don’t want it from a government plan that might be operating more efficiently than they are, that they operate.” Government programs such as Medicare and the Veterans Administration’s medical providers are far more efficient than private, for-profit health care providers, and the industry fears that having to compete with such a program will slash their profits. Medical companies will do whatever it takes to keep their profit margins—and shareholder returns—above a certain threshold. They will deny more claims, kick more people off their rolls, purge employer accounts, whatever it takes. Potter, evidently bemused, says, “You know, I’ve been around a long time. And I have to say, I just don’t get this. I just don’t understand how the corporations can oppose a plan that gives the unhealthy people a chance to be covered. And they don’t want to do it themselves.… I’m a capitalist as well. I think it’s a wonderful thing that companies can make a profit. But when you do it in such a way that you are creating a situation in which these companies are adding to the number of people who are uninsured and creating a problem of the underinsured then that’s when we have a problem with it, or at least I do.” A public option would help “keep [health care corporations] honest,” he says, and they would inevitably lose profits.
Predictions - Right now the industry is primarily involved in what Potter calls a “charm offensive,” where it is attempting to give the perception that it, too, is for health care reform. But once Congress begins putting out specific legislative language, the industry and its flacks will begin attacking specific provisions. Moyers says the upshot is for the industry to either “kill reform” or prevent lawmakers from agreeing on a bill, just like what happened in 1993-94 under the Clinton administration. No matter what they say—favoring the elimination of pre-existing condition restrictions, for example—the industry will adamantly oppose reform of any kind. “They don’t want a public plan,” Potter says. “They want all the uninsured to have to be enrolled in a private insurance plan. They want—they see those 50 million people as potentially 50 million new customers. So they’re in favor of that. They see this as a way to essentially lock them into the system, and ensure their profitability in the future. The strategy is as it was in 1993 and ‘94, to conduct this charm offensive on the surface. But behind the scenes, to use front groups and third-party advocates and ideological allies. And those on Capitol Hill who are aligned with them, philosophically, to do the dirty work. To demean and scare people about a government-run plan, try to make people not even remember that Medicare, their Medicare program, is a government-run plan that has operated a lot more efficiently.… [T]hey want to scare you into thinking that through the anecdotes they tell you, that any government-run system, particularly those in Canada, and UK, and France that the people are very unhappy. And that these people will have to wait in long lines to get care, or wait a long time to get care. I’d like to take them down to Wise County. I’d like the president to come down to Wise County, and see some real lines of Americans, standing in line to get their care. [PBS, 7/10/2009]

Entity Tags: John Boehner, Frank Luntz, Cigna, Bill Moyers, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Zach Wamp, Wendell Potter, US Veterans Administration, Senate Finance Committee, Michael Moore, Medicare, Max Baucus, Mitch McConnell, Jon Kyl, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Democrats are aghast at the amount of corporate spending they expect to be used against them in the 2010 elections, according to media reports. The US Chamber of Commerce (see September 20, 2010, September 30, 2010, and October 2010) projects that it will spend $75 million this year, over double its spending of $35 million in 2008, to oppose Democrats running for federal and state office. USCoC officials say that spending could go even higher. Other organizations, such as American Crossroads, a right-wing political group headed by former Bush political advisor Karl Rove (see September 20, 2010 and February 21, 2012), are on track to raise and spend tens of millions, again to fund political activities designed to prevent Democrats from being elected. A report circulating among Democratic Congressional leaders says that some $300 million has been raised for the 2010 campaign, all coming from 15 conservative tax-exempt organizations. Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics says: “A commitment of $300 million from just 15 organizations is a huge amount, putting them in record territory for groups on the right or left. With control of Congress hanging in the balance, this kind of spending could have a major impact.” Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), says the amount of corporate funding for Republican political activities is “raising the alarm bell.” The DCCC spent $177 million in all of 2008’s Congressional races. Labor unions and other groups allied with Democrats plan heavy spending of their own, but nothing to compare to conservative corporate funding. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), for example, plans to spend $44 million on election-related spending this year. Political scientist Anthony J. Corrado Jr. says: “What we are seeing is that major businesses and industries are taking advantage of the recent court ruling and favorable political environment. They are already committing substantially more money than they have in any previous election cycles.” Corrado is referring to the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) that has overturned almost a century’s worth of campaign spending limitations. USCoC officials also point to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that overturned the ban on political issue advertising by corporations and labor unions close to an election (see June 25, 2007). The Los Angeles Times reports that the heavy corporate fundraising for Republican political interests is driven largely by corporate opposition to the Democrats’ focus on health care reform, and a bill passed in July that established stricter government monitoring and regulation of the financial system. Roger Nicholson of the International Coal Group, a mining company, recently wrote to fellow executives urging them to contribute money to defeat the “fiercely anti-coal Democrats” in Washington, specifically targeting a number of Democrats in Kentucky and West Virginia. Five of the largest health insurers, including Aetna, Cigna, and United HealthCare, are banding together to create and fund a new nonprofit group to help influence elections. The group has not yet been formed, but reports say that it will spend some $20 million to defeat Democrats. [Los Angeles Times, 8/2/2010]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Anthony J. Corrado Jr., American Crossroads, Aetna, Chris Van Hollen, International Coal Group, Service Employees International Union, US Supreme Court, Los Angeles Times, Roger Nicholson, UnitedHealth Group, Cigna, US Chamber of Commerce, Sheila Krumholz

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2010 Elections

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