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OP-ED | The Health Care Industry’s Campaign Of Fear, Uncertainty And Doubt

by Wendell Potter | Mar 24, 2014 1:27pm
(6) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Health Care, Opinion, Health Care Opinion, Reprinted with permission from the Center for Public Integrity

Insurers Use Front Groups And Spin Doctors
To Sow Concerns About Obamacare

Yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of Obamacare, but it marked the seventh anniversary of opposition to the concept underlying health care reform.

At least two years before the first words of legislation were written, and three years before the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, the entrenched health care interests were hard at work creating their strategies to ensure as much as possible that whatever passed would not have an adverse effect on profits.

The overall plan included a broad range of initiatives to plant fear, uncertainty and doubt about reform ideas in the minds of elected officials and ordinary Americans. For instance, the special interests collaborated under the auspices of organizations like the Healthcare Leadership Council, a coalition that encompasses executives from insurance companies, drug and medical device makers, biotech firms and hospitals. I know because I participated in many meetings of the HLC during my years as an insurance industry executive.

The campaign of fear, uncertainty and doubt — or FUD, to use its acronym — continues to this day against the law, and it will be waged in coming months by cynical politicians who believe it will be the surest way to win votes in November. I’m already seeing the outlines of the latest iteration of the campaign taking shape.

But let’s first go back to the spring of 2007. Both health insurance premiums and the number of uninsured Americans were continuing to skyrocket. Polls were showing that voters were fed up with our money-driven health care system, and that was emboldening the Democratic presidential candidates to include reform proposals in their policy platforms.

At an industry briefing I attended in May of 2007, Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies, which has been conducting opinion and message research for health insurers since the early 1990s, made crystal clear the point that Americans were losing confidence in the private health insurance market.

As I described in my book, Deadly Spin, McInturff’s first slide showed that there had been a significant recent shift in opinion and that a majority of people were now telling his pollsters that the government should do more to solve the many problems plaguing America’s health care system.

Those of us in the room who were members of the industry’s Strategic Communications Committee could see we had our work cut out for us. We knew we would have to scare people away from the notion that more government involvement would be beneficial. 

Also at that meeting were representatives of the industry’s big trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, and one of its PR firms, APCO Worldwide. The AHIP and APCO staffers briefed us on the tactics they were recommending, which included using a front group, initially funded by the pharmaceutical industry and called Health Care America, to begin the scare campaign. Such a campaign wouldn’t be effective if the public knew that drug makers and insurance companies were actually conducting it, so steps would need to be taken to make the media and public believe that Health Care America was really a grassroots organization.

One of the first targets of Health Care America was Michael Moore, whose movie SiCKO was about to have its U.S. premier. The objective of Health Care America’s attacks on Moore and SiCKO was to frighten people into believing that quality of care would suffer if we allowed the government to “take over” the health system. 

Immediately after the first American screening of SiCKO in Sacramento, many reporters got this in their inbox:

“Health Care America, a non-partisan, non-profit health care advocacy organization, released the following statement in response to a California rally held by Michael Moore and a variety of advocates in support of a government takeover of our health care system: The reality is that government-run health systems around the world are failing patients — forcing them to forgo treatments or seek out-of-pocket care in other countries.”

Fast forward to the spring of 2009. Before Democratic congressional leaders had written any reform legislation, political consultant Frank Luntz suggested in a memo to Republican leaders that they should characterize anything the Democrats proposed as a “government takeover.”

“Nothing else turns people against the government takeover of healthcare more than the realistic expectation that it will result in delayed and potentially even denied treatment, procedures and/or medications,” Luntz wrote.

The industry’s years-long FUD campaign clearly has scared millions of Americans into believing — erroneously — that Obamacare represents a government takeover.

This past week, we got a glimpse into how the insurance industry and its political allies will give the “government takeover” campaign a new spin: Obamacare will cause insurance premiums to double in 2015.

Citing “one senior insurance executive who requested anonymity,” The Hill, an inside-the-Beltway publication, predicted last week that “Obamacare-related premiums will double in some parts of the country.”

There is absolutely no reason to believe this will happen — and good reasons why it won’t, which I’ll explain next week — but facts have little place in most political campaigns. Rest assured, the specter of skyrocketing premiums will be part of a carefully crafted and executed campaign designed to create fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of voters next November. Some things never change.

Former CIGNA executive-turned-whistleblower Wendell Potter is writing about the health care industry and the ongoing battle for health reform for the Center for Public Integrity.

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(6) Comments

posted by: Politijoe | March 30, 2014  5:18pm

Politijoe

As usual Mr. Potter provides great insight into the campaign of misinformation from the healthcare industry. The sophomoric warnings of government takeover are almost as silly as the current predictions of rising premiums resulting from the ACA. This willful ignorance from conservative carnival barkers to their low-information constituency fuels a fear-based, anti-government paranoia that erodes the discourse and our civility. Fact is our healthcare premiums increased 120% since 2000, about 8% annually before Obamacare. We pay more and get less with far fewer outcomes than the rest of the industrialized world. Healthcare reform is not an ideological issue; it’s a matter of sound governance, fiscal responsibility and national fairness. 

posted by: GBear423 | March 31, 2014  7:06am

GBear423

Health Insurers and related Medical businesses lobbied and advertised to keep Gov’t out of their industry, ok… How is that bad?  How would this differ than UAW or General Electric or any other industry group looking to make shareholders and members happy (wealthy & secure)?
I am a willfully ignorant barking low informed constituent that has seen how corrupt and mismanaged government agencies are. Do I have a reasonable fear of government running my healthcare?  Yes I do, and everyone else should too.  This Law is not making Healthcare affordable; it’s forcing Insurance companies to increase their costs and (in theory) flooding the market with mandated customers. There are taxes and fees passed on to all the related businesses in healthcare that is going to have everyone put skin in the game, but we are already seeing the “driver” of the affordability part getting politicized, the “Mandated Customer”.  Delays designed by the WH to aid democrats in an election year.  How can you ignore the obvious?  It’s about power, keeping it, and growing its influence. The US Government was never intended to be in our lives to this degree.

posted by: Politijoe | March 31, 2014  9:32pm

Politijoe

GBear423 unfortunately you are woefully misinformed on the subject of healthcare. Much of what you indicated is based on conjecture and not facts. Simply stated, when comparing global healthcare systems it becomes immediately apparent our fragmented, convoluted, out-of-pocket, employer-based healthcare system costs more, provides less and has fewer outcomes. Therefore government can and does manage national healthcare systems effectively. Therefore, you would have to explain how government would ruin your healthcare beyond our current system. Generally speaking, unless you have no insurance or a sub-standard policy the new ACA reforms will have no direct effect on you personally. What the country really needs is a single payer system.

posted by: GBear423 | April 1, 2014  8:36am

GBear423

Actually my opinion is well informed. I was in the US Army and used Govt healthcare, trust me, we (soldiers) wish we could see civilian Doctors. I also am very familiar with Canadian healthcare, same scenario. mediocre at best care, and potential for poor care is high. I have a great employer based benefits package, no complaints. The ACA is Law, I hope it could be replaced in whole, but I advise candidates to promote the idea of improving it. 
true Healthcare Reform, actual affordability, starts with tort reform, Insurance reform, and looking at market based solutions to lower costs to healthcare facilities/staff. Forcing private businesses to run a politicians demands and then flooding the market with mandated customers is not a Free Society solution.

posted by: Politijoe | April 1, 2014  11:46pm

Politijoe

GBear423 your a consumer of a product, in this case healthcare, that does not by definition make you informed. What I have suggested is that you broaden your perspective and become familiar with the global healthcare comparisons. Having done so you will notice that Tricare is a single payer system, much like the Canadian system which is modeled after the British healthcare system, also known as the Beveridge model. However, this is not the ONLY model, there are others such as the Bismark model employed in Germany and other nations. Furthermore there are other advanced countries with various nuances in their healthcare systems that cost less, provide more and still insure all their citizens. Therefore, Im uncertain about your informed sense of healthcare systems. More importantly, if you already have a “great employer benefits package with no complaints” then what in gods name is the problem? the ACA wasn’t designed for individuals like yourself to begin with. 
Your comment regarding tort reform is also inaccurate, tort reform would account for less than 10% of healthcare cost savings.
This simply is not an issue about independent, Ayn Ryan anti-government rhetoric. This issue is about fairness, economics and fiscal soundness and the facts bear that out. With that said I recommend you do some homework, study the global healthcare systems, gain some perspective and become less wedded to the ideology and more to the facts.

posted by: Joebigjoe | April 2, 2014  7:59am

Politijoe, many of these so called advanced countries are the size of some of our states.

Many of these countries don’t have a dependency class the way we do, but if you pay attention you will see that that class is growing with alot of government dependent Middle Eastern Muslim and North African immigrants pouring in, and lo and behold causing all kinds of fiscal and not to mention social issues.

At least you are honest and you say you want single payer.

You talk about fairness. Where does that come from? That’s communism talk.

Is it fair that someone who works really hard and follows lifes rules can’t afford health insurance? I would say no.

Is it fair that someone doesn’t work hard and never paid attention in school and sits around watching Jerry Springer all day gets good health care? I would say no, but in your world it would be yes.

Is it fair for a family of hard working healthy people to decide they want to get catastrophic insurance and diligently bank as much money as they can for the deductible and retirement to be told that they can’t do that and have to buy elaborate plans that take alot of money out of their pockets? I say no, and you apparently say its OK to screw over these people for the common good.

That my friend used to be known as communism.