The Senate Finance Committee's health care reform bill got high marks from the Congressional Budget Office for keeping the deficit down, but now insurance companies say it will actually cost you and your family thousands of dollars more than you’re paying now.
[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/10/13/potter.wendell.art.jpg caption="Wendell Potter says the insurance industry has been disingenuous from the beginning of the health care reform debate."]
Wendell Potter worked for two different insurance companies in the past, and now he's working against them to help get reform passed. He says the claims from this new report from an insurance industry trade group are just not true.
Potter spoke to John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Tuesday. Below is an edited transcript of that interview.
John Roberts: On March 5th, at a White house conference on health care reform, Karen Ignani, who is the president and CEO of AHIP – American's Health Insurance Plans – stands up and addresses the president. She says, “We want to work with you. We want to work with the members of Congress on a bipartisan basis here. You have our commitment.”
So just six months ago, Wendell, there was American's Health Insurance Plans standing up, saying we want to work with you on health care reform. Just yesterday they came out with this study, this PricewaterhouseCoopers report, which is a scathing criticism of the so-called Baucus Bill in the Senate Finance Committee. What changed between then and now?
Wendell Potter: You know, what happened on that March day – that summit at the White House – was what made me decide to become a critic of the industry, because that was the beginning of their charm offensive, the part of the PR campaign that they want us to see, they want us to hear. And what we saw – what we're seeing now is the other side of that; their efforts behind the scenes and now more publicly to defeat reform. And it's all an effort to try to shape reform, if they can, or kill it if they can, but shape it for their benefit and at the benefit of Wall Street shareholders, more than Americans.
Roberts: Are you suggesting that Karen Ignagni was being disingenuous during that meeting?
Potter: I think the industry has been disingenuous from the beginning of this debate. They have never had any intention of being good faith partners with the president and Congress. And I know this from having been a part of many, many efforts over the past 20 years, almost, to defeat reform, or to help shape reform to the industry's benefit. And I was a part of some of the efforts to plan this very campaign.
Roberts: AHIP’s initial problem was with the public option, which is not in the Senate bill, but now they're saying, wait a minute, there aren't stiff enough penalties for people who don't buy health insurance. That's the new beef. What's that all about?
Potter: You know, it's an argument – it's probably the best case that I've heard from anybody why we need a public health insurance option. What they're saying is, in fact, they bought and paid for this report from an outfit, you know, that's worked for them and done many reports like this over many years. They've taken selective parts of the bill – not even bothering to read the full bill or take some other elements into consideration – and are claiming that the bill, if enacted, would raise premiums. It's nonsense. It would not work the way that they're saying. In fact, one of the authors admitted, apparently late yesterday, that they did not take into consideration other important elements of the bill.
Roberts: So let me stop you there and just drill down on this claim that they're making, that the health care bill that's now in the Senate Finance Committee would add hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to the cost of a health insurance package for most people and families. You're saying that that's just not true?
Potter: It's just not true, because they're taking the parts of the bill that the industry now does not like. What the Finance Committee did, fortunately, toward the end of last week was reduce some of the very, very severe penalties that the insurance industry wanted to have in the bill that would be assessed against us if we decide we don't want to buy their overpriced and inadequate products that are often nothing more than fake insurance.
Roberts: So how do they go forward and make such a claim if it's just patently not true?
Potter: Because they can. Because they know they can often get away with it and they know that they've got a lot of shills on Capitol Hill. One thing we'll be able to see over the next, you know, today and the coming days, is whether or not people will be revealing themselves as the industry shills by quoting from this bogus report.
Roberts: All right. So if it comes down to a fight between America's Health Insurance Plans and the White House, who do you think is going to win?
Potter: My money's on the White House on this one, because I think that the people are behind the White House and the Congress and I think the industry knows that. This is a desperation move on the part of the insurance industry, because analysts are now somewhat concerned – Wall Street analysts – that the bill may not be absolutely, everything that the industry wants, and that's what's driving this – Wall Street's expectations that this bill may not be everything they'd hoped and prayed for.
Roberts: And you said this is the greatest argument for a public option that you have heard to date, but do you think this could breathe new life into the idea of a public option?
Potter: I think it already is. From what I'm hearing, people who have been trying and working really in good faith to get legislation passed are now knowing that a public option is one of the most important ways to try to keep this industry honest. Without the public option, you know, these companies will continue to have the free reign they've had over the last several years, and they will, indeed, raise our prices, our premiums to the point that we can't afford them and more and more people will be in the ranks of the underinsured.