Health

Posted by Wendell Potter on May 16, 2011

You might not realize it, but this is National Small Business Week. I'm betting many small business owners aren't aware of it, either. Perhaps that's because most small business owners are far more likely to be worrying about whether they'll be able to offer health insurance to their employees for another year.

Cutting health insurance costsOr is this the year they join the ever-growing list of small businesses that have been "purged" by their insurance carrier?

For several years now, insurance companies have been "purging" small business accounts they no longer consider profitable enough or that their underwriters believe pose too much risk. I became familiar with"purging" (yes, that's the actual word insurance executives use internally) toward the end of my career as an industry PR man.

Posted by Wendell Potter on May 12, 2011

Like many others, I've heard President Obama talk about his mother's insurance problems during her final months in 1995. The memory of his mother having to devote precious time and energy pleading with her insurer to pay her mounting medical bills fueled Obama's determination to focus on passing health care reform.

But I didn't realize until reading a new book about the president's mother that the insurer she was pleading with was CIGNA, the one I used to work for. I wish I had known at the time. In my role as PR man for the company, I might have been able to help.

Posted by Jill Richardson on May 09, 2011

For a non-actress surrounded by movie stars, Debbie Levin, President of the Environmental Media Association (EMA) -- an organization founded by Norman Lear -- is putting on quite a performance of her own. Too bad it's more likely to win her a fraud charge than an Oscar, based on her May 6, 2011 letter to her Board provided to the Food Rights Network by a source inside EMA.

Rosario Dawson gardening at a school next to a bag of Kellogg's AmendOver the past month, Levin has been confronted with ample evidence that the group she runs exposed school children (not to mention the Hollywood celebrities that serve on the group's board) to toxic sewage sludge. In 2009, EMA began a partnership with several Los Angeles schools, securing the donation of thousands of dollars in compost and soil amendment products from Kellogg Garden Products for the schools' organic gardens soon thereafter. In a sworn affidavit, former L.A. Unified School District garden advisor, Mud Baron, said that he informed Levin early on and repeatedly that Kellogg uses sewage sludge in many of its products, and sewage sludge is illegal for use in organic gardens.

Posted by Wendell Potter on May 09, 2011

Dr. Deborah RichterWhile several states are suing the federal government to block health care reform and dragging their feet on implementing any part of it, Vermont this week will be taking a giant leap in the other direction -- toward universal coverage and greater cost control -- when Governor Peter Shumlin signs legislation putting the state on the path toward a single-payer health care system.

The Vermont House last week voted 94-49 to approve legislation that has been years in the making. The Senate approved the measure a few days earlier. While it will not establish a government-run system right away, work will begin almost immediately to lay the groundwork to create a state health plan -- called Green Mountain Care -- that could be up and running as early as 2014.

Posted by Anne Landman on May 06, 2011

Silva Thins adA recent study of tobacco industry documents reveals that cigarette makers added appetite-suppressing substances to cigarettes and strategized on how to enhance the appetite-suppressing and weight-reducing effects of smoking. In the 1960s, Philip Morris (PM) added tartaric acid to its cigarettes to reduce smokers' appetite. British American Tobacco (BAT) added the same substance to its cigarettes. Another known tobacco additive with appetite-reducing characteristics, 2-acetylepyridine, was referred to in industry documents using code-names and was used as a cigarette ingredient by PM, Brown & Williamson, R.J. Reynolds and BAT. The companies also considered adding ephedrine and amphetamine to cigarettes, but these chemicals were not found in their ingredients lists. Cigarette makers strategized that they could get away with adding appetite-suppressing chemicals to cigarettes as long as they made no overt health claims about their effects to the public. In a 1969 memo, Helmut Wakeham, PM's scientific director, in response to a question about introducing specific substances into cigarettes, explained that "FDA [has] no requirements until a health claim is made. Then there must be studies on safety, efficacy, mechanism of action, metabolism, etc. If a substance is simply added to a product and no claims are made there is not need for FDA approval.

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Posted by Wendell Potter on May 05, 2011

Health care reformOne of the reasons I wanted to return to journalism after a long career as an insurance company PR man was to keep an eye on the implementation of the new health reform law. Many journalists who covered the reform debate have moved on, and some consider the writing of regulations to implement the legislation boring and of little interest to the public.

But insurance company lobbyists know the media are not paying much attention. And so they are able to influence what the regulations actually look like -- and how the law will be enforced -- with little scrutiny, much less awareness.

Posted by Wendell Potter on May 02, 2011

I've written frequently in recent weeks about the eye-popping profits the big, publicly-traded health companies have been reporting. Last year -- as the number of Americans without health insurance grew to nearly 51 million -- the five largest for-profit insurers (Aetna, CIGNA, Humana, UnitedHealth and WellPoint) had combined profits of $11.7 billion.

Health insurance dollarsBut that was so 2010.

If the profits those companies made during the first three months of this year are an indication of things to come, 2011 will more than likely be the most profitable year ever for these new darlings of Wall Street.

But lest you think only those big New York Stock Exchange-listed corporations have figured out how to make money hand over fist while their base of policyholders is shrinking, take a look at the so-called nonprofit Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans.

Posted by Wendell Potter on April 25, 2011

If I had stayed in the insurance industry, my net worth would have spiked between 4 p.m. Wednesday and 4 p.m. Thursday last week -- and I wouldn't even have had to show up for work.

Mr. MonopolyI'm betting that just about every executive of a for-profit health insurance company, whose total compensation ultimately depends on the value of their stock options, woke up on Good Friday considerably wealthier than they were 24 hours earlier. Why? Because of the spectacular profits that one of those companies reported Thursday morning.

Among those suddenly wealthier executives, by the way, are the corporate medical directors who decide whether or not patients will get coverage for treatments their doctors believe might save their lives.

Posted by Wendell Potter on April 18, 2011

Americans were misled by insurance industry rhetoric about health reform Tea Party members who railed against health care reform because of the spin they were sold about how "Obamacare" would affect Medicare played a big role in returning the House of Representatives to Republican control.

I'm betting that many of them, if they're paying attention to what Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) wants to do to the Medicare program, are having some serious buyer's remorse. If Democrats are wise, they're already drafting a strategy to remind Medicare beneficiaries, including card-carrying Tea Party members, just how fooled they were into thinking that Republicans were the protectors of the government-run program they hold so dear.

Posted by Wendell Potter on April 04, 2011

When Republicans talk about how the American health care system should be reformed, they typically mention two things: allowing insurance firms to sell policies across state lines, which I wrote about last week; and malpractice reform.

Wendell Potter, former VP of PR for CIGNANewly-elected Republican governors, like Bill Haslam in Tennessee, are also pushing malpractice reform at the state level. They contend that such reform — favored by businesses and medical associations — would not only bring down the costs of health insurance premiums, it would also bring doctors flocking to their states to practice. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is considering another run for the White House, has touted malpractice reform as one of the primary "solutions" he would pursue if elected president. He claimed during a GOP-sponsored panel last week that malpractice reform would nearly eliminate unnecessary care that results from all those tests doctors order and drugs they prescribe just because they fear being sued. "The cost of defensive medicine," he claimed, "is $800 million a year."

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