Wendell Potter: An Antidote to “Cooch Poisoning”

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    While Virginia’s AG Ken Cuccinelli – our very own reincarnation of John C. Calhoun and nullification – spends his time, and the valuable time of his tax-payer-funded staff, in his personal vendetta against the recently passed health care reform program, the need for health care availability for the “least among us” continues because the bill Cooch hates so much doesn’t even take full effect until 2014.

    I sometimes wonder how Virginians think it makes our state look to have to have a medical group that was formed to bring medical care to the poorest parts of the world now with an arm dedicated to providing dental, visual, and medical care to rural parts of the United States – places like southwest Virginia where there are no other alternatives available to many of the people living there.

    This year on July 23-25, the Remote Area Medical (RAM) Clinic will again be held in Wise VA at the Virginia/Kentucky Fairgrounds. As usual, the clinic featuring free medical, dental, and vision care will serve thousands of persons who otherwise have no access to doctors or dentists. On October 2-3 the Ram team will visit Grundy at Riverview Elementary School.

    Not only does the annual RAM clinic starkly point out the need for that health care reform bill Cuccinelli is trying to overturn, but it also inadvertently led one man who made a very lucrative living as vice president for public relations for CIGNA health insurance company to reverse the course of his life and become an advocate for health care reform. Wendell Potter may well be the most effective antidote we can find to Ken Cuccinelli and the other GOPers who don’t care about those who suffer and die because they are given the “freedom” to go without health care.  

    Wendell Potter resigned his CIGNA position in 2008, subsequently joined the Center for Media and Democracy and became a vocal advocate for health insurance reform, including supporting a public option to compete with for-profit health plans. His change of heart began one hot summer day in 2007 when he saw the RAM clinic in Wise in operation.

    Potter was visiting relatives in northeast Tennessee back then when he came across an advertisement for the Wise RAM free clinic at the Virginia/Kentucky Fairgrounds. He decided to check it out.

    What he saw hit him in his heart. Hundreds of people were waiting in long lines to receive basic medical and dental procedures they desperately needed. Some of the people had driven more than 200 miles and camped out for days in their cars. The clinic’s medical professionals saw patients in sterilized and transformed stalls that normally were used for livestock.

    For Potter, that was a defining moment in his life. He saw before him a cross section of the millions of poor, sick people that the industry he worked for didn’t care about. His days of fielding questions and obscuring or justifying  the methods insurance companies use to limit care to the insured were over.

    “It was over-powering. It was just more than I could possibly have imagined could be happening in America,” he said in an interview with the Guardian’s Observer.

    Potter soon resigned his job and turned his efforts to helping attain universal health care for all Americans. By the way, he is not surprised by the actions designed to repeal the reform bill. (I’m sure that would include the actions of Ken Cuccinelli and like-minded others who are filing suit in the hope that they can overturn reform and return the nation to the rationing of health care by wealth.)

    “[The health insurance industry] is a very wealthy industry and they use PR very effectively. They manipulate public opinion and the news media and they have built up these relationships with all these politicians through campaign contributions,” Potter said.

    Perhaps that’s be the case with Cuccinelli. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, committees for the election of Cuccinelli received $37,750 from the health industry. He got $13,000 from Anthem, $20,000 from Schering Plough, and $3,500 from the Pharmeceutical Manufacturers of America. Potter’s words ring true.

    I know one thing. I am certain that I will be buying Wendell Potters forthcoming book, “Deadly Spin,” which is due out in October.