Opinion

Dear Mr. President, I Wish I Had Known...

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.

Don't Be Duped by the Sewage Sludge Industry's "Compost"

"Biosolids" from sewage sludgeTell Hollywood it's not green to "greenwash" sewage sludge with "organic" school gardens!

Some of Hollywood's "green" celebrities -- Rosario Dawson and a bevy of starlets -- thought they were promoting organic school gardens for inner-city kids. But the Environmental Media Association (EMA) teamed them up with a secretive corporation, Kellogg Garden Products, whose main business is selling Los Angeles sewage sludge products!

That company calls its Kellogg brand "quality organics" and deceptively labels bags sold at the garden store as "garden soil" made from "compost" -- with no mention which are made from industrial and human waste that contains tens of thousands of contaminants. That's why federal law bars the use of sewage sludge-based products in organic gardens.

So when news broke that Kellogg Garden Products provided sewage sludge products to EMA's "organic" school gardens -- and its spokesperson even posed with sewage sludge-derived products at the gardens -- you'd think EMA and its stars would cut all ties to the sludge industry.

Colvin on Comparing the Constitutional Amendments Proposed after Citizens United

Greg Colvin, author of a new constitutional amendment

By Greg Colvin

Among those who feel the only way to overcome the Citizens United decision, which opened the door to unlimited corporate spending on elections, is to amend the U.S. Constitution, the question on everyone's mind is: "So what's the language?"

I offered a version of my own, the Citizens Election Amendment, posted three months ago at this site. It got a pretty good response (over 400 people "liked" it on Facebook) and last week I was in Washington, DC, talking to several members of Congress about it.

The main approach I take is to build upon the individual citizen's constitutional RIGHT TO VOTE (a right that Americans have shed blood and died for), protecting and expanding it to give citizen human beings the right to be the sole source of funding for election campaigns.

GOP's Medicare Plan Would Be a Windfall for Insurers

Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to privatize Medicare would accelerate a trend started several years ago by corporate CEOs and their political allies to shift ever-increasing amounts of risk from Big Business and the government to workers and retirees.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin)If enacted, the Ryan plan would represent a windfall of unprecedented proportions for insurance corporations and other businesses.

For millions of average Americans, many of whom already are finding it impossible to save for retirement, it would represent financial calamity. The nation's middle class would pay dearly for Ryan's proposed shredding of the social safety net that Medicare currently provides.

A Prize for Simply Doing What's Right

This week I received a Ridenhour Prize for my book, Deadly Spin. I'm honored to receive the award, especially in light of my fellow recipients: former Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin; the producers of a film called Budrus, about attempts to find non-violent solutions to the strife in the Middle East, and Thomas Drake, an National Security Agency contractor who blew the whistle on what he believed were corrupt practices. Past honorees have included Bill Moyers and Bob Herbert. Elite company.

Wendell Potter, former VP of PR at CIGNAIt is always nice to be recognized for one's work. The prizes are supposed to honor those "who speak truth to power." But the honor is also ironically unfortunate. The need to write the book at all, to illustrate how selfish profit motives too frequently take precedence over the health care needs of real people, remains a tragedy. And sadly, that continues to be the case, even after so much has been revealed about the inner workings of insurance giants and even after a bruising political battle has been waged to change how health care is delivered in America. The fact is, I shouldn't have had to write the book. There shouldn't have to be an award for people who simply do what is simply right.

Two Who Marched With King Take the Long Road from Memphis to Madison

Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we've got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point, in Memphis. We've got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together. –- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his last speech in Memphis

Lone Star State "Reform" a Texas-Sized Distortion

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."

Insurers' Cost of Doing Business Costs Us Dearly

Wendell Potter, CMD's insurance industry insiderSince you likely don't pay as much attention to the behavior of insurance companies as I do, you probably are not aware that CIGNA, my last employer, was fined $600,000 by the North Carolina Department of Insurance earlier this week for, among other things, not charging its customers correctly.

It was the second largest fine ever levied by the state's regulators, the largest being a $1.8 million fine in 2003 against Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina for underpaying claims for emergency care. The news about the CIGNA fine was picked up by a few media outlets in the state, but not many, and it got almost no press coverage outside of the state. In addition to the fine CIGNA has been ordered to pay, the company will have to shell out several hundred thousand dollars in refunds to North Carolina employers whom regulators say were charged too much over a three-year period.

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