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Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans [Hardcover]

Wendell Potter
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 277 pages
  • Publisher: Non Basic Stock Line; 1 edition (14 Dec 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608192814
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608192816
  • Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 16.3 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 836,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Wendell Potter is the insurance industry's worst nightmare.In June 2009, Wendell Potter made national headlines with his scorching testimony before the Senate panel on health care reform. This former senior VP of CIGNA explained how health insurers make promises they have no intention of keeping, how they flout regulations designed to protect consumers, and how they skew political debate with multibillion-dollar PR campaigns designed to spread disinformation.Potter had walked away from a six-figure salary and two decades as an insurance executive because he could no longer abide the routine practices of an industry where the needs of sick and suffering Americans take a backseat to the bottom line. The last straw: when he visited a rural health clinic and saw hundreds of people standing in line in the rain to receive treatment in stalls built for livestock.In "Deadly Spin," Potter takes readers behind the scenes to show how a huge chunk of our absurd healthcare spending actually bankrolls a propaganda campaign and lobbying effort focused on protecting one thing: profits. Whatever the fate of the current health care legislation, it makes no attempt to change that fundamental problem. Potter shows how relentless PR assaults play an insidious role in our political process anywhere that corporate profits are at stake--from climate change to defense policy. "Deadly Spin" tells us why--and how--we must fight back.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Wendell Potter was a former vice president of communications for Cigna Healthcare. He changed his thinking about his career after visting a "health fair" in his home state of Tennesse. It was like entering the Third World. The United States is the only major industrialized (First World) country that does not have some form of universal coverage. The reasons are very simple - various interest groups control the message and reap the profits. Mr. Potter's narrative provides insight into the behaviors of large corporations as they pursue their economic interests at the expense of good patient care and an efficient health care system.

Adam Smith would have categorized the health insurance industry in particular as "unproductive labour." A category whose labourers create no "vendible wealth." A society with an overemphasis on "unproductive labour" will eventually become impoverished. This is what is occurring in the United States at this time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The truth will out 23 Nov 2010
Superb and courageous effort by whistle-blowing Wendell Potter, who writes in detail about the smear campaign he took part in while working for the Health insurance industry to undermine Michael Moore's film "Sicko". If you've been at all interested in the healthcare debate in the US and the misinformation campaign organized by the right-wing, this book is unmissable.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  120 reviews
75 of 78 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating glimpse at the "men" behind the curtain 20 Nov 2010
By Wayne Klein - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Health care continues to limp on in the United States. We are ranked 46th out of all the Top 50 nations for health care in the world. Part of the issue is that health care is run like any other business and yet it isn't truly a business--profiting on someone's else's health or denying coverage for a pre-existing condition (or stating that a technique is experimental when, in fact, it isn't so as to deny coverage and keep the patient alive)is a form of gambling but it gambles with people's lives which makes it Wendell Potter worked for what he would probably characterize as the "enemy" now for over twenty years. As a PR executive he would weave lies into a positive "truth" for the company he worked for (Cigna) making it appear that they were always doing the right thing for their patients. Using statistics to lie is one thing (for example dropping people off the unemployment rolls that are reported to make it appear that the nation is covering when it isn't)but Potter would often twist the truth or help craft messages to appeal to middle America to scare the public from reform in health care.

One day Potter had an awakening and realized what he was doing was wrong leaving the industry that had nurtured him and becoming an advocate for proper health care and a government based system to force corporations to play fair. He just couldn't stomach hiding greed behind the veneer of double speak falling into a rabbit hole with language that only George Orwell would recognize. He chronicles his rise in the industry and his disillusionment and how the media is manipulated, patients, government to make decisions that are profiting major corporations at the cost of our health and lives. This is as much the story of his awakening as it is about the PR manipulation of the public around health care issues and trying to demonize the discussion of universal healthcare as part of the debate.

Potter's exceptional book "Deadly Spin" takes us behind-the-scenes into the wheeling and dealing that goes on with multiple PR flacks that try and spin doctor any change that threatens their profit as bad for the average consumer. Potter gives us a history of the PR game to help us understand WHY and HOW this is unethical (especially by the ethics guidelines dicated by the PR association).

The health care industry from health plans to pharmaceuticals have for too long had access to lawmakers (using the money that we pay them) to push forward their own agenda and "buy" politicians in Washington; that's nothing new it just just become more blatant than before. Using misinformation, front groups to suggest that any sort of reform is bad, these organizations have been directing America down a path with overgrown foilage and rough terrain where the patient must always suffer. Potter's book takes the curtain that these companies hide behind and let's us see the thought process, innner workings and how misinformation manipulates the public to make the wrong choices while allowing politicians to make those choices knowing they are wrong without ramifications.

Is "Universal Healthcare" the way to go? I don't know but I do know that the insurance industry is scared of it. Potter points out how people like him would manipulate the media and politicians to paint Universal Healthcare as "communist" or "socialist" in nature to taint any and all intelligent discussion about the positives and negatives scaring people away before dialog had even begun.

Potter suggests that having some sort of system like this in place would be helpful in redefining the way we take care of our health. The recent changes with Obama Care he points out aren't perfect but is a step in the right direction (--his complaint was that corporate America shaped it (this is Potter's opinion mind you I don't know that I agree with him on this point but it is food for thought).

I don't know that I agree with all of Potter's suggestions (for example I think that given our economy Obama Care should have been a lower priority--right in the middle of the worst economic downturn in ages-- and when it did become a priority it was so badly compromised that the changes--small as they were and some positive--are meaningless in the over all big picture)but I have to admire him for waking up from the money inspired opiate-like dream that has entranced everyone else in his former industry. I also feel that Potter would have done better to give us more in depth examples of why the system breaks down consistently but what we do get is pretty embarrassing.

Regardless of where you stand on healthcare-- if you believe or don't believe in universal healthcare--Potter's book is essential reading for understanding the flaws in our system and how corporate profit continues to dictate who gets coverage, who doesn't and why we are ranked so poorly compared to other nations when it comes to health care.

123 of 137 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Summary of Health Care Insurance Issues 16 Nov 2010
By Loyd E. Eskildson - Published on
Wendell Potter was formerly in charge of public relations for Humana and then Cigna. Potter's intent in "Deadly Spin" is to expose the deceptive techniques of public relations in the insurance segment of health care. He does this quite well, and also provides readers with insight into the two events (the large turnout, including many with illusionary health insurance, for a free Pennsylvania dental and medical clinic; the death of a young girl after his employer dithered and delayed approving a necessary transplant) that turned him against continuing to defend the industry he had been part of for some 25 years. Potter begins by introducing readers to a sampling of tested phrases that have served the industry quite well, such as 'socialized medicine,' 'government-run' medicine, and 'government takeover' of medicine. Readers also gain exposure to other P.R. favorites, such as identifying with patriotism and the American way of life, testimonials, name-calling, smearing opponents (eg. Michael Moore and his "Sicko"), identification with plain folks, fake grassroot campaigns, junk science and statistical analyses, and euphemisms. A brief tour of the darker side of health insurance practice likewise is given - rescissions (retroactively canceling policies of those with large medical bills, using whatever pretext possible), and purging less than profitable accounts via large rate increases. Missing, however, is any comment on the fact that if the uninsured paid the same rates as insurance companies, much of the need for health insurance would go away, and a large proportion of medical bankruptcies avoided.

Universal health coverage began under Germany's Otto Von Bismarck in 1883, with Social Security following in 1889. The motivation was neither altruism or socialism, but to provide leverage against the labor and socialist movements of the day. Health insurance quickly spread - Austria (1888), Hungary (1891), Norway (1909), England (1911), Russia (1912), and the Netherlands (1913). Unfortunately, the momentum took almost 100 years to get to the U.S.

Some of the most disturbing revelations in "Deadly Spin" are that 'ObamaCare' is not a 'cure-all.' For example, it will not stop employers from only offering high-deductible plans such as the $30,000 for some families in Maine. Nor does it remove the ERISA liability protection for employer-sponsored plans. However, it will sharply reduce medical bankruptcies, the key reason for 62% of personal bankruptcies in 2007. Hopefully, it will also reduce the amounts paid for executive salaries and retreats - WellPoint spent over $27 million on staff retreats in 2007-08, while William McGuire, United Health CEO for 12 years, was paid almost $2 billion for his leadership ($620 million was 'clawed-back' because of fraudulent option back-dating). (Comparison: Dr. Donald Berwick, an extremely well-regarded expert in charge of care for the 103 million receiving Medicare or Medicaid, receives only $176,000/year.) Hopefully, the $52.4 billion spent on stock buybacks instead of medical care by the 7 largest insurers from 2003-08 will also either cease or be drastically diminished.

An important side effect of our market-based health-care system is the very high administrative overhead - about 31%, per some estimates, compared to 3% for Medicare. Duplicity and high lobbying costs are two more - America's health insurance plans donated $86.2 million to the U.S. Chamber's lobbying against 'ObamaCare' in 2009, while promising President Obama on tape that they were in support.

Mr. Potter is unquestionably qualified and sincere in his effort. Unfortunately, limiting the scope to his personal expertise both enormously understates the size of America's health care problem, and unfairly skews the focus towards insurance firms. The U.S. spends 17.3%+ of GDP on health care, despite not covering some 40-50 million. Compare that to competitors Japan (about 7.2%), Taiwan (about 6%), and China (4%). Reducing our expenditures to Taiwan's level would save about $1.7 trillion/year, and also reduce unfunded Medicare and other health care liabilities for retirees by close to $30 trillion. Most of the problem is due to excessive service charges (about 2X those of other nations), and excessive utilization by profit-maximizing physicians. Solutions require not just Potter's recommendations for limiting monopolistic practices by health care insurers (providers are also guilty) and mandating higher MLRs, but also restructuring health care to combine insurance and care provision in the manner of Kaiser Permanente (California), the V.A., the Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, Bassett Health Care, and Geisinger Health System. Physicians must be predominantly paid by salary, to discourage excess care. It will also require that the U.S. emulate every other developed nation that I'm aware of by mandating strict price-controls for medical services, and limiting the ability of drug makers to mislead patients and providers with overly expensive 'new' products that are no better than existing ones.
40 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be required reading for every member of Congress 3 Dec 2010
By OldRoses - Published on
The title of this book, "Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans" is a bit off-putting. Reading it, I mentally prepared myself for a diatribe written by a disgruntled low-level employee out to get his pound of flesh. We all know that health insurance companies are in the habit of denying coverage and raising premiums, occasionally exorbitantly, but they aren't all that bad, right? Surely not as bad as the Wall Street firms that first took away our retirement savings and then our jobs.

I worked in the financial industry for 25 years. Nothing I saw there was as heinous as what is revealed in this book. Put simply, Wall Street may take away people's money, but health insurance companies take away people's lives.

Author Wendell Potter was an insurance company executive, heading up a PR department. For years, he participated in the shameless pursuit of profits over lives until he finally came face to face with the effects on real people of what he was doing. Visiting a clinic set up on a fair ground offering free health care to those who had no insurance and no means to pay for health care, he saw ordinary hardworking people reduced to being treated in animal stalls.

He has written about his experience in the health insurance industry, as well as his epiphany, in a straightforward manner, making it more powerful than if he had penned an hysterical screed. He takes us, step by step through the changes in the health insurance industry from a privately held companies offering true health insurance to the modern publicly owned companies whose focus is on profits rather than health.

The lengths to which health insurers go and the collusions in which they participate are extraordinary. They routinely deny coverage to people who need it and drop coverage of people who become ill. They hire outside PR firms who form bogus grassroots groups who lobby in favor of health insurers. They provide statistics to back up all of their false claims that any kind of healthcare reform is bad.

Potter devotes an entire chapter to revealing how health insurers torpedoed Healthcare Reform using all of the dirty tricks he had discussed in previous chapters. The reason we have no public option is because it would put the health insurance industry out of business prompting them to wage all-out war against it.

It took the death of a child who was denied a liver transplant to convince Potter to leave his job with CIGNA. He devotes his time now to healthcare reform advocacy and as a health insurance critic. He testified during the healthcare reform debates, but obviously not enough people listened to him.

In my opinion, this book should be required reading for every member of Congress. They need to know how they have been bribed and manipulated by the health insurers to do what's best for the health insurance industry instead of what is best for the people who elected them to office.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye Opening !! 15 Dec 2010
By dkj - Published on
I just finished Wendell Potter's book and, to be perfectly honest, am somewhat depressed about the state of politics and public decision making in our country.
As a former healthcare executive in a for-profit company, I do understand the pressures and ofttimes conflict between the best possible care and the most profitable course. "Deadly Spin" portrays this accurately but goes much farther to show exactly how public opinion is molded and how decision makers at all levels are motivated to do the companies bidding. This book shows how out of whack our whole manged care and health insurance industry is where a few companies control prices and costs on both sides of the supply and demand equation. I have purchased a quantity of this title and will send it out to friends with the caveat that they too pass it on. This book is a must read for Americans looking to understand what is really happening in Washington regarding current and future health care. Thanks Mr. Potter.
35 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, yet lacking look at Health Care PR... 12 Nov 2010
By tim - Published on
I'll keep this short because, well, I can be lazy sometimes...
This book kept me engaged thoroughly enough that I finished it in two readings. It has interesting, relevant information on the history of heath care PR that does give a glimpse into what motivates these companies.
The problem is, most people already know or believe that money, profits and (sometimes) greed, is a detrimental factor behind the (sometimes) crappy service and treatment Americans can potentially receive.
While this book did keep me engaged, it did feel a little thin. Maybe it's more of the cynic in me but I really wanted something more damning of the current system and didn't feel it.
I personally did not like the reform enacted in this nation in the last year because of something the author touches on, the fact it won't do too much to control cost. I sort of wish this book did a better job of what could be possible remedies to that issue.

A quick point also; the author does not in any way shy away from showing his progressive nature, however, this book seems to be written well and in an even fashion, mainly sticking to policy and behind-the-scenes information over partisan bickering...

Anyways...I did rate it a 4, as it does have it's interesting moments and I do believe would be an interesting book for anyone not actually immersed and working in the health care or insurance process.
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