Guernica editors Joel Whitney and Michael Archer recently spoke with Wendell Potter, the former mouthpiece for Cigna and ubiquitous healthcare commentator, about passage of the legislation.
Guernica: Opponents say the federal mandate will be the first time the government has forced the American public to buy a product. Are you in favor of it?
Wendell Potter: Yes, reluctantly. I say reluctantly because I wish people would have the choice of a public option. But even without it, the mandate is a crucial part of the bill. Many of the other parts won’t work without it.
Guernica: Do you think the states who are suing on the grounds that it is unconstitutional have a case?
Wendell Potter: No. I’m sure the authors of the legislation took extra care to write it carefully, knowing that opponents would sue. It irritates me that my tax dollars are being wasted by state attorneys general who are filing lawsuits. It is political posturing.
Guernica: There’s so much talk about this bill being the first step. What’s the next, and will we ever see a public option?
Wendell Potter: The next steps are to watch closely how the regulations will be written and how the legislation will be implemented in the states. We will need to see how the insurers behave and whether additional regulation will be necessary. I do think we will see a public option. I believe Congress—and most Americans—will eventually come to realize that the public option really is needed to keep these companies honest.
Guernica: Will this bill really damage insurance company profits?
Wendell Potter: No, not in the short term at least. The one thing these companies do well is make money and meet shareholders’ expectations pretty consistently.
Guernica: In Guernica and subsequent interviews, you spoke at length, as a former insider, on the misleading practices of the insurance industry. Will they continue? What might be their new strategies? In other words, what’s the new profit incentive for the insurance companies if they can’t deny coverage?
Wendell Potter: Yes they absolutely will continue. The people who lead this industry will continue to do whatever it takes to make Wall Street happy. What we will see is that instead of denying coverage to people, they will accelerate the shifting of costs from them to individuals and families. At least as much as they can get away with under the new legislation.
Guernica: What’s your reaction to the bill passing? How important is the “Fix It” bill?
Wendell Potter: It was exciting to watch the House vote on the bill and know that for the first time in decades, real reform was going to be enacted, reform that will help millions of people get the care they need. The fix is important, though.
Guernica: How do you see this bill affecting insurance contributions to politicians? Will those who voted for the bills be left out?
Wendell Potter: Insurance company executives are pragmatic. They are by and large conservative and Republican, but they will contribute to many Dems in the future, especially those that chair committee and subcommittees.
Guernica: Has your campaign against the industry, and the passage of the bill, helped alleviate some of the guilt you may have had for being a party to their practices? Not to put words in your mouth but we sensed this in the Guernica interview …
Wendell Potter: Absolutely. I had no idea how good it would feel to be free of guilt and how much easier I could sleep at night. It has been liberating in so many ways. I highly recommend it!
Guernica: Are you working on other programs at Center for Media and Democracy outside of health care reform?
Wendell Potter: I will be, and I will be doing other things as well. Lord willing, that is, as they say where I grew up. Stay tuned.
*Read Jake Whitney’s August 2009 interview with Potter here.*
Michael Archer is a founding editor of Guernica. His interview with Cherien Dabis appeared in Guernica’s September 2009 issue.
Joel Whitney is a founding editor of Guernica. His last article, an interview with Noam Chomsky, appeared in Guernica’s November 2009 issue.