Wednesday, March 9, 2011

DEADLY SPIN - book review

 DEADLY SPIN:  An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans by Wendell Potter.

There is a massive, daily growing number of people who are forced to "go naked" because they cannot afford medical insurance.  If you are completely destitute, Medicaid and state help is available.  However, if you are the working poor (i.e. a couple making more than $19,800 a year in AZ,) you are not eligible for any assistance.  Even if you are earning the medium income of $43,000 (Half the people in AZ make less than $43K) you simply cannot afford even a high-deductible policy that covers OB/delivery care (basic policy cost of $7,000 dollars with a $10,000 deductible and 30% copay after that.)    There are tens of millions of people in this category who work and make too much to get any aid, but can't even begin to afford these virtually worthless policies.  It is increasingly difficult to find a job any more that has "good" health insurance as a benefit.

I am an insider.  I have been a practicing physician since finishing medical school in 1970.  I have been on the board of my group practice pondering how we can manage to continue providing health care insurance as a benefit to our employees at an affordable level.  Still, I was amazed at my naivety regarding the medical insurance industry in this country.  

I knew Cigna, Humana, and the Blues were not my friend, but had NO IDEA as to the extent of their greed and complete absence of ethics, nor of their skillful use of propaganda in achieving their ends that would make the old KGB look like a pack of amateurs.

I heard Wendell Potter testify before congress on CSPAN, watched a long interview with Bill Moyers, and finallly a shorter interview on BookNotes earlier this month.  I just bought the book last week, and read it this past weekend.

Potter, a senior PR manager for Humana and subsequently CIGNA, who "got religion" and crossed over to become the ultimate critic of the same companies for which he managed "spin" for the sole purpose of enriching the pockets of the executives (and himself) through salaries, stock option bonuses, and golden parachutes.   While reading, I was alternatively and/or simultaneously sad, angry, and depressed.  I wish the entire populace would read it.  It was $9.99 on my Kindle, but is available at most libraries.  It is not that long and it is written efficiently and engagingly, so a fast reader can finish it easily on a rainy day at home.

After a brief history of the PR industry, the first 70% or so is specific to the medical insurance companies.  The remainder makes comparisons of the health insurers with Phillip Morris and the other tobacco companies, the coal industry, the oil and petrochemical industries, and other large corporate organizations who spend millions to control congress and to make the general public think that they have honest, good intentions while behaving in the completely opposite manner.

If you don't have the time or inclination to read the book, at least take 35 minutes to listen to Potter speak with Bill Moyers