BILL MOYERS: Why is the industry so powerful on both sides of the aisle?
WENDELL POTTER: Well, money and relationships, ideology. The relationships– an insurance company can hire and does hire many different lobbying firms. And they hire firms that are predominantly Republican and predominantly Democrat. And they do this because they know they need to reach influential members of Congress like Max Baucus. So there are people who used to work for Max Baucus who are in lobbying firms or on the staff of companies like Cigna or the association itself.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, I just read the other day, in THE WASHINGTON POST, that Max Baucus’s staff met with a group of lobbyists. Two of them had been Baucus’s former chiefs of staff.
WENDELL POTTER: Right.
BILL MOYERS: I mean, they left the government. They go to work for the industry. Now they’re back with an insider status. They get an access, right?
WENDELL POTTER: Oh, they do, they do. And these lobbyists’ ability to raise money for these folks also is very important as well.
Lobbyists, many of the big lobbyists contributed a lot of money themselves. One of the lobbyists for one of the big health insurance company is Heather Podesta, the Podesta Group, and she’s married to Tony Podesta, who’s a brother of John Podesta.
BILL MOYERS: Who used to be the White House chief of staff.
WENDELL POTTER: Right. Right. And they’re Democrats. And my executives wanted to meet with — and when I say my, the people I used to work for–
BILL MOYERS: At Cigna.
WENDELL POTTER: Yeah, wanted to meet with Hillary Clinton, when she was still in the Senate and still a candidate for president. Well, that’s hard to do. That’s hard to pull off, but she did. That just shows you that you can, through the relationships that are formed and that the insurance industry pays for, by hiring these lobbyists, you can your foot in the door. You can get your messages across to these people, in ways that the average American couldn’t possibly.
BILL MOYERS: So it’s money that can buy access to have their arguments heard, right?
WENDELL POTTER: That’s right.
BILL MOYERS: When ordinary citizens cannot be heard.
WENDELL POTTER: Absolutely right. It’s the way the American system has evolved, the political system. But it does offend me, that the vested special interests, who are so profitable and so powerful, are able to influence public policy in the way that they have, and the way that they’ve done over the years. And the insurance industry has been one of the most successful, in beating back any kinds of legislation that would hinder or affect the profitability of the companies.
BILL MOYERS: Why is public insurance, a public option, so fiercely opposed by the industry?
WENDELL POTTER: The industry doesn’t want to have any competitor. In fact, over the course of the last few years, has been shrinking the number of competitors through a lot of acquisitions and mergers. So first of all, they don’t want any more competition period. They certainly don’t want it from a government plan that might be operating more efficiently than they are, that they operate. The Medicare program that we have here is a government-run program that has administrative expenses that are like three percent or so.
BILL MOYERS: Compared to the industry’s–
WENDELL POTTER: They spend about 20 cents of every premium dollar on overhead, which is administrative expense or profit. So they don’t want to compete against a more efficient competitor.
The need for radical reform of our campaign finance and election laws is a recurring theme for this blog. I’ve posted many times about the need to eliminate the undue influence that special interest groups, lobbyists and political action groups have on legislation and policy. This candid interview is a perfect example of the kinds of things that happen routinely at every level of government from all kinds of different groups. None are any better or worse than any other in my view. The only people that should be able to influence our elected officials are the ones that can vote for them. Period. If a group wants to state their case, they can do so publicly at hearings. There is no need or justification for any group to have a private audience with any elected official at any level. (That includes Prevo and our local assembly members and mayor.)
This interview also points out why Health Insurance Reform and Health Care Reform MUST include regulation of the health insurance industry and a public option. The industry can’t and won’t regulate themselves. That is the rightful place for government intervention. They’re not going to change their practices until and unless they are forced to. That means regulation and competition. The government is the only entity capable of competing with the insurance industry.
Everything we are hearing from the obstructionists to reform is part of a well thought out and executed game plan. Down to the very words and phrases that we hear repeated ad nauseum.
During the interview, Bill Moyers read from confidential documents drafted by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) in May and June of 2007. The documents outline a unified strategy for AHIP members to prepare for the release of Michael Moore’s documentary, SICKO on June 29, 2007.
You can download and read the full AHIP documents by clicking here and here (PDFs).
The Language of Health Care 2009 (PDF)
The Frank Luntz memo strategizing opposition to health care reform Bill Moyers mentions in the interview.
GOP Health Care Strategy (PDF)
Strategy memo by Alex Castellanos dated July 7, 2009.
These are evil people who don’t care about the average American. They will do anything to make a buck and to remain, regain, expand their political power. They are lying and manipulating the system to further their selfish goals at the expense of Americans. The sad and disturbing part is that there are so many Americans that sincerely believe that these people and entities actually have our collective best interest at heart. They don’t. In fact they are actively working against our best interests.
Watch the video or read the whole transcript between Bill Moyers and Wendell Potter here.
Read more on Wendell Potter and Profits Before Patients here.
Trace campaign contributions, ad spending and the revolving door between industry and government here.
We can defeat the lies, the misrepresentation and the willful ignorance of the obstructionists on the right. We can do it by not giving in, not giving up, and shining a bright light on those that are pulling their strings. Now is the time.