By Lee Fang on Sep 17th, 2009 at 6:36 pm
NOTE: This is the third installment of our series — Meet Your Insurance Company Executive: An Interview with Wendell Potter.
This week, ThinkProgress spoke with Wendell Potter, a former VP of communications at health insurance giant CIGNA, about exactly how insurance companies derail reform and preserve the status quo. Working in public relations for CIGNA, Potter had a direct role in multiple campaigns in the past to minimize public outrage at insurance company abuses, defeat legislation aimed at regulating insurers, and the massive effort to discredit Michael Moore and his movie SiCKO. In addition to enormous amounts of money spent in direct lobbying and campaign contributions, Potter spelled out exactly how insurance companies have prepared to defeat meaningful reform.
Planned well before this year, insurance company CEOs, like Potter’s former boss at CIGNA (H. Edward Hadway), formed a group called the Strategic Communications Committee to develop effective messages and strategy for the industry. Organized through AHIP, the lobbying front for insurance companies, the committee would work with large public relations companies to devise a two-pronged, “duplicitous campaign.” Because insurance companies suffer from low public approval, Potter said, the industry would present itself as “for reform” to the public, yet at the same time label proponents of meaningful reform as “extreme.” The public campaign is for the most part positive, and largely delivered by industry representatives like AHIP chief lobbyist Karen Ignagni. Potter noted:
It’s really a duplicitous PR campaign. They will talk about, in broad terms, how supportive they are of health care reform, but they will be working behind the scenes to kill very, very crucial parts of reform legislation like the public option.
Potter then explained how insurers would use a variety of front groups, set up by PR companies like APCO, to advance a hidden attack campaign. The “dirty” campaign involved feeding talking points to right-wing media, like Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. It also includes the creation of front groups to run negative advertisements about reform and mobilize anti-reform “grassroots” groups. Finally, insurers would coordinate with, and sometimes fund, conservative think-tanks to produce academic-appearing reports to advance their cause. Leaked memos from the insurance companies — regarding the campaign against Moore’s SiCKO movie — not only support Potter’s assertions, but specifically describe every step of this process.