Confessions of a Former Insurance PR Executive Part 1: Big Insurance and the GOP Playbook

The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, that if you even consider that, you’re heading down on the slippery slope towards socialism. So they have used scare tactics for years and years and years, to keep that from happening………it could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies. So that is their biggest concern.

I sat spell bound reading the confessions of a former insurance PR executive who recently went on the air revealing all the dirty tricks of the trade.

A. That means that part of the effort to discredit this film was to use lobbyists and their own staff to go onto Capitol Hill and say, “Look, you don’t want to believe this……..You don’t want to talk about it. You don’t want to endorse it. And if you do, we can make things tough for you.”

Q: How?

A: By running ads, commercials in your home district when you’re running for reelection, not contributing to your campaigns again, or contributing to your competitor.

Q: This is fascinating. You know, “Build awareness among centrist Democratic policy organizations–”

A: Right.

Q: “–including the Democratic Leadership Council.”

A: Absolutely.

As we’ve repeatedly pointed out here on slabbed big insurance spreads the money around, mostly to the GOP but also to some key Democrats who are more than willing to do their bidding for some cold hard campaign ca$h.

Q: So you would actually hear politicians mouth the talking points that had been circulated by the industry to discredit…….

A: Absolutely.

Q: You’d hear ordinary people talking that. And politicians as well, right?

A: Absolutely.

Q: So your plan worked.

A: It worked beautifully.

Playing on existing biases is an excellent way to spread propaganda, especially with those nonthinking souls that are slaves to idealology. The next exchange reveals a bit more about “the who” behind the interview. Wendell Potter came from the health insurance side of the industry though we’ve seen all these tactics on the property and casualty side as well. I’d submit the following playbook was used by Mississippi Republicans like Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker to help undermine Gene Taylor’s multi peril bill HR 1264: Pay lip service and then quietly launch torpedoes as we continue:

Q: I have a memo, from Frank Luntz. I have a memo written by Frank Luntz. He’s the Republican strategist who we discovered, in the spring, has written the script for opponents of health care reform. “First,” he says, “you have to pretend to support it. Then use phrases like, “government takeover,” “delayed care is denied care,” “consequences of rationing,” “bureaucrats, not doctors prescribing medicine.” That was a memo, by Frank Luntz, to the opponents of health care reform in this debate. Now watch this clip.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: The forthcoming plan from Democratic leaders will make health care more expensive, limit treatments, ration care, and put bureaucrats in charge of medical decisions rather than patients and doctors.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL: Americans need to realize that when someone says “government option,” what could really occur is a government takeover that soon could lead to government bureaucrats denying and delaying care, and telling Americans what kind of care they can have.

SEN. JON KYL: Washington run healthcare would diminish access to quality care, leading to denials, shortages and long delays for treatment.

REP. JOE WILSON: How will a government run health plan not lead to the same rationing of care that we have seen in other countries?

REP. TOM PRICE: We don’t want to put the government, we don’t want to put bureaucrats between a doctor and a patient.

BILL MOYERS: Why do politicians puppet messages like that?

WENDELL POTTER: Well, they are ideologically aligned with the industry. They want to believe that the free market system can and should work in this country, like it does in other industries. So they don’t understand from an insider’s perspective like I have, what that actually means, and the consequences of that to Americans.

They parrot those comments, without really realizing what the real situation is.

I was watching MSNBC one afternoon. And I saw Congressman Zach Wamp from Tennessee. He’s just down the road from where I grew up, in Chattanooga. And he was talking– he was asked a question about health care reform. I think it was just a day or two after the president’s first– health care reform summit. And he was one of the ones Republicans put on the tube.

And he was saying that, you know, the health care problem is not necessarily as bad as we think. That of the uninsured people, half of them are that way because they want to “go naked.”

REP. ZACH WAMP: Half the people that are uninsured today choose to remain uninsured. Half of them don’t have any choice but half of them choose to, what’s called, go naked, and just take the chance of getting sick. They end up in the emergency room costing you and me a whole lot more money.

WENDELL POTTER: He used the word naked. It’s an industry term for those who, presumably, choose not to buy insurance, because they don’t want to. They don’t want to pay the premiums. So he was saying that half… Well, first of all, it’s nothing like that. It was an absolutely ridiculous comment. But it’s an example of a member of Congress buying what the insurance industry is peddling.

BILL MOYERS: Back in 1993, the Republican propagandist, William Kristol, urged his party to block any health care proposal, in order to prevent the Democrats from being seen as the quote, “generous protector of the middle class.” But today, you’ve got some Democrats who are going along with the industry.

Max Baucus, the senator from Montana, for example, the most important figure right now in this health care legislation that’s being written in the Senate. He’s resisted including a public insurance option in the reform bill, right?

This post isn’t about pumping Obama’s health care plan which contains serious flaws the main one being we can’t afford it as a nation and while Gene Taylor has publically stated his opposition that does stop shills like Grover Norquist from lying about Gene’s position or nonthinking ingrates from swallowing it like a crack whore on the verge of making money for the next fix. Such is life (mis)leading fools including certain pols that drink too much of their own koolaid as we continue:

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.


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–


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.

Ordinary people that actually are capable of thinking for themselves do have an outlet these days called the internet. And of course whether it is health insurance or property and casualty insurance there is one thing the industry does not want: Free market competition.

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.

Lats night I saw Gene Taylor give an interview on WDAM that WLOX also aired and he proposed the ultimate free market solution for the problems of health care and insurance in repealing the anti trust exemption that was given to the industry in 1945, supposedly for one year. In my opinion there is nothing more American than free market competition but you’ll never hear that out of Norquist and his ilk on health care or otherwise.

Our readers can find the entire interview and transcript here.


3 thoughts on “Confessions of a Former Insurance PR Executive Part 1: Big Insurance and the GOP Playbook”

  1. Does anyone believe the insurance industry is the only crowd doing this? The unions are the masters of this tactic. It is the way it is done in Washington. This is a truly bi-partison effort.

    Just listen to the rhetoric of the White House about simple citiizens being outraged at the possibility of socialized medicine with free “death counseling”.

    It is done because ALL POLITICIANS are corrupt and on the take to do anything to be re-elected.


  2. No I don’t think the insurance crowd are the only special interest that play fast and loose with the facts. Remember I’m an adherent to Public Choice Theory which applies equally to domestic sugar producers as it does insurers.

    I don’t think all politicians are corrupt or theives and I’ll name you two that I think are honest men: Gene Taylor and Mike Chaney. That doesn’t mean we don’t have the dirty variety, just ask Chocolate Guy over in NOLA about what being a grand jury target feels like and yes we’ve had good information from months ago he received a “target letter”.

    What bothers me about the new health care proposal is Obama forgot to include how we pay for it in his proposal, just as George Bush and his BOI (Band of idiots) forgot how to pay for that medicare prescription drug benefit back in 2004. Simply put, we as a nation are in debt to our eyeballs and it is not sustainable.

    What the teabag crowd conveniently forgets is the defiict problems began in the year 2000 when their boy George Bush was elected. When they stop acting like mindless autotomons and pull their noses out of Rush Limbaughs a-hole I might respect the message a bit more.

    Part 2 of this post will hurt more as I introduce the readers to the human casualties of Ed Rust’s greed in people like Ms Marilyn Haverty, an elderly lady made homeless by Katrina that State Farm f*cked so he and his Board of DIrectors could collect double bonus for 2005 for a job “well done”.

    Most insurance folks I know are good people with a strong sense of right and wrong. The group environment leads otherwise good people to bad places sometimes when they are lead by those without a conscience. Just ask a german oldtimer that was a guard at Auschwitz. Zyklon B was developed in partially in response to the high level of substance abuse by concentration camp guards back in the day. I bet similar dynamnics are behind State Farm’s preference of hiring sociologists to lead their claims teams.


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