Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Wendell Potter

Wendell Potter is a health insurance industry whistleblower and author of 'Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans'

July 6th, 2011 7:37 AM

It's Time to Get Outraged

One of my favorite bumper stickers reads, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

That's sort of how I feel about the health care debate. If more Americans paid attention to the fate of neighbors and loved ones who have fallen victim to the cruel dysfunction of our health care system, they would see through the onslaught of lies and propaganda perpetrated by special interests profiting from the status quo.  

Since I started speaking out against the abuses of the insurance industry, I have heard from hundreds of people with maddening and heartbreaking stories about being mistreated and victimized by the greed that characterizes so much of the profit-driven American health care system.

Many other people send me links to articles or broadcasts they have seen. When I worked in the insurance industry, we called them "horror stories," and for good reason. The circumstances people often found themselves in were nightmarishly horrible. As an industry PR guy, my mission was to keep as many of those horror stories out of the media as possible. We didn't want the public to know.

It occurred to me recently that Americans are not sufficiently outraged because they either don't hear these stories or, if they do, don't believe how commonplace they are or that anyone they know could experience the same misfortune. Or they might hear that more than 50 million Americans don't have insurance because they can't afford it or, in many cases, can't buy it even if they can afford it, but they don't stop to think that real human beings make up that abstract 50 million figure.

The reality is that these stories are indeed commonplace. Almost all of us -- regardless of our age, income, job or political affiliation -- are just a layoff or plant closure away from being uninsured, or a business decision beyond our control from being underinsured, or an illness away from being forced into bankruptcy and homelessness.

My life changed when I really started paying attention a few years ago. I now have a new mission -- to help people become aware of and understand what is going on around them. So, starting today, I will be sharing on an occasional basis some of the horror stories like the ones I used to work so hard to keep out of the press. My hope is that people will begin to remember why reform is so necessary and why repealing "ObamaCare," despite its shortcomings, is not a real option.

You might have heard about this first one. Even if you have it bears retelling. A few weeks ago, a man in North Carolina was arrested for robbing a bank for $1 so he could get government-provided health care in prison.

Fifty-nine-year-old Richard James Verone has a tumor in his chest and two ruptured disks, but no job or health insurance. He is one of those 50 million Americans I mentioned earlier. Verone told reporters he asked for only a dollar to show that his motives were medical, not monetary. Because of his "preexisting" medical conditions, no private insurer will have anything to do with him. He wasn't destitute enough to qualify for Medicaid, the government program for low-income Americans, or old enough to qualify for Medicare, the government program for people 65 and older.

Verone and millions of other Americans who have a history of illness are considered by private insurers to be "uninsurable." Insurance company underwriters consider them an excessive risk to profits. Even insurers that operate as nonprofits, like many Blue Cross plans, refuse to sell coverage to a third or more of Americans who apply because they've been sick in the past. Many of the people they turn down are children who were born with birth defects.

Shortly after Verone staged his robbery, one of the contestants in the Miss USA pageant revealed during a nationally broadcast interview that she is homeless. Why? Her sick mother could not pay both the rent and her mounting medical bills. Twenty-three-year-old Blair Griffith was evicted along with her mother and brother just weeks after she won the title of Miss Colorado.

"I didn't know what to think" when sheriff's deputies starting putting the family's belongings in garbage bags, she said. "It was shocking. And then I saw my mom on her knees crying and begging them, 'Please don't do this to me' and then looking up at me and saying, 'I'm so sorry.'"

Blair's mother, a widow, lost her health insurance soon after suffering a severe heart attack.  She was unable to get another policy. She and her children eventually had no choice but to join an untold number of other Americans who are homeless because they can't pay their medical bills. Many are bankrupt as well as homeless. Medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States.

The third story I want to share with you hasn't made headlines. Most such stories never do. A few days ago a young woman who said she'd been raped sent me an e-mail to ask if I might be able to help her find insurance.

"I am in the process of hiring a broker to help me find insurance, but it is just very overwhelming and sad," she wrote. "I have been denied by three major companies or had riders attached that will not cover anything related to HPV, cervical cancer, medications, or treatments. Basically, they will do nothing for me."

She wrote, essentially, to beg for help.

"I have never talked about what happened (to me), but I am learning that this is too big to handle on my own. There are so many barriers, and while I consider myself an intelligent person, I am by no means an expert when it comes to dealing with insurance agencies. I will take and am grateful for all the help that I can get."

I hope I can help her, but there is no assurance that either I or a broker or anyone else for that matter can help her get the coverage and access to care she needs. She is an apparent victim not just of rape but also of an unjust system that has devolved into seemingly intractable dysfunction while we were not paying close enough attention.

These are just three people whose lives have taken a tragic turn because of America's profit-driven private health care system.  There are literally millions of other stories, many of which are even more maddening and heartbreaking.

When the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) is fully implemented in 2014, the number of uninsured Americans will be reduced by 30 million, and many of the insurance industry's most egregious practices -- including refusing to sell coverage to people with preexisting conditions -- will be outlawed.

Let's hope that there will be far fewer horror stories after 2014. But the new law is just the beginning. We still will have a long way to go before we have universal coverage, like every other developed country in the world.

Universal coverage, in my view, is the ultimate goal we all should share. Remember this if nothing else: Until we achieve it, you and your loved ones could easily be facing your own horror stories.

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law Donna Smith Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? Donna Smith We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa Nick Turse Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch Donna Smith The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Enron billionaire John Arnold thinks everyone should believe him when he says we've got to cut pensions because he's so incredibly rich: John...

Mar 5th
4:20 PM
Read More

More in David Sirota's continuing series on the billionaire takeover of PBS: More PBS conflict woes as activists move to eject David Koch from board of...

Mar 3rd
12:35 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles