Sunday, July 26, 2009

Whistleblower tells of America's hidden nightmare for its sick poor.

This is why Obama must succeed in his attempt to reform the US's health service. And this comes from a man who worked for that health service but woke up to the fact that putting profit before people's health was simply the way the US health service is constructed:

Wendell Potter can remember exactly when he took the first steps on his journey to becoming a whistleblower and turning against one of the most powerful industries in America.

It was July 2007 and Potter, a senior executive at giant US healthcare firm Cigna, was visiting relatives in the poverty-ridden mountain districts of northeast Tennessee. He saw an advert in a local paper for a touring free medical clinic at a fairground just across the state border in Wise County, Virginia.

Potter, who had worked at Cigna for 15 years, decided to check it out. What he saw appalled him. Hundreds of desperate people, most without any medical insurance, descended on the clinic from out of the hills. People queued in long lines to have the most basic medical procedures carried out free of charge. Some had driven more than 200 miles from Georgia. Many were treated in the open air. Potter took pictures of patients lying on trolleys on rain-soaked pavements.

For Potter it was a dreadful realisation that healthcare in America had failed millions of poor, sick people and that he, and the industry he worked for, did not care about the human cost of their relentless search for profits. "It was over-powering. It was just more than I could possibly have imagined could be happening in America," he told the Observer.

Potter resigned shortly afterwards. Last month he testified in Congress, becoming one of the few industry executives to admit that what its critics say is true: healthcare insurance firms push up costs, buy politicians and refuse to pay out when many patients actually get sick. In chilling words he told a Senate committee: "I worked as a senior executive at health insurance companies and I saw how they confuse their customers and dump the sick: all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors."

The Republicans are determined to undermine Obama's efforts in the hopes of bringing down his presidency. But 76% of Americans wants a public option when it comes to health care.

And yet, despite all that, the Republicans are having some success as they push forward their argument against any reform of this dreadful system.
To Potter that is no surprise. He has seen all this before. In his long years with Cigna he rose to be the company's top PR executive. He had an eagle-eye view of the industry's tactics of scuppering political efforts to get it to reform. "This 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.
The examples of insurance companies wriggling out of paying for patients treatments are numerous; and scandalous.

Firms comb medical records for any technicality that will allow them to refuse to pay. In one recently publicised example, a retired nurse from Texas discovered she had breast cancer. Yet her policy was cancelled because her insurers found she had previously had treatment for acne, which the dermatologist had mistakenly noted as pre-cancerous. They decreed she had misinformed them about her medical history and her double mastectomy was cancelled just three days before the operation.

Last month three healthcare executives were grilled about such "rescinding" tactics by a congressional subcommittee. When asked if they would abandon them except in cases of deliberately proven fraud, each executive replied simply: "No."

Speaking from Europe, I find such actions utterly reprehensible and am amazed that the Republicans have any success at all when it comes to defending this immoral crap.

Health care is a human right. That this should not be understood in the richest country on Earth simply appalls me.

And that's before we get to the fact that, in the US, a sudden illness can lead to a person's bankruptcy. When people become seriously ill, that's the very time when the state should come to their aid, to ensure that they have all the help that they need.

It stuns me that the Republicans can have any kind of success pushing a system which declares that, at your moment of greatest need, you are on your own.

Click title for full article.

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