Insider says health companies can't be trusted

July 28, 2009 7:39:33 PM PDT
A former insurance company insider told ABC7 Tuesday that insurance companies cannot be trusted to voluntarily go along with health care reform.

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Until just a couple of months ago Wendell Potter was making a big six figure salary, flying around in corporate jets and defending Cigna as the head of Cigna's corporate communications. Tuesday, he was honored at a conference for the Civil Justice Foundation.

Potter still chokes up when he talks about a visit to his parents' home town that changed his life.

"Long lines of people were waiting to, to get care in animal stalls," Potter said.

The former Cigna vice president says he saw hundreds of people waiting all night to get into a temporary free clinic on the county fairgrounds.

"I still can't find the words to tell you how deeply that affected me," Potter said.

Last month, Potter told his story to the Senate finance committee, the same committee that is now deliberating the health care legislation and whose chairman is backing away from the president's request for a publicly run alternative to the insurance industry.

"What it shows me is that the insurance industry is really flexing its muscles and that is evidence of the influence of the insurance industry," Potter said.

Potter says the president is right to think that a public option is needed to keep insurance companies honest. But Tuesday, even the White House seemed to be backing away. The president's press secretary was asked if the president has shifted his support.

"Well again, without having seen the finance committee bill it's hard for us to come down and fully evaluate, I think that's obviously something we'll do as part of this process," Robert Gibbs said.

Tuesday, the president held another town hall meeting on health care, addressing senior citizens at the AARP.

In Washington, ABC7's political analyst Bruce Cain says the president and Democratic lawmakers are giving ground.

"Every single concession that we've heard about in the last couple of days has been a concession on the part of the Democratic Party trying to move moderate Republicans to vote for this plan," Cain said.

Potter says giving up an alternative to insurance companies is a mistake.

"The insurance industry has shown that it's not trustworthy for consumers, for governments, for businesses," Potter said.

And Potter says companies look for ways to drop customers who file expensive claims.

Tuesday afternoon, Cigna issued a statement saying "we strongly disagree with the suggestion that, motivated by profits, the insurance industry has deliberately attempted to confuse or unfairly treat covered individuals."

Cigna added its opposition to a public option, saying it would be fiscally irresponsible and turn back the clock on quality.

Potter told ABC7, if public and private schools can coexist, so can public and private insurance companies.

But right now, in Washington, the public option is fading.

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