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Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans Hardcover – Nov 9 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press; 1 edition (Nov. 16 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608192814
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608192816
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 2.9 x 24.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 458 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #911,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“Potter engagingly weaves together industry secrets with his own moral struggle and transformation into a whistleblower who tried to beat back the spin that nearly killed Obamacare.” ―Emily Loftis, Mother Jones

“May be the ideal whistleblower.” ―Time

“As one former insurance executive testified before Congress, insurance companies are not only encouraged to find reasons to drop the seriously ill; they are rewarded for it. All of this is in service of meeting what [Potter] called ‘Wall Street's relentless profit expectations.'” ―President Barack Obama, quoting Potter before Congress in September 2009

“Wendell Potter is a straight shooter--and he hits the bulls-eye here with an expose of corporate power that reveals why real health care reform didn't happen, can't happen, and won't happen until that power is contained.” ―Bill Moyers

“The recently passed health care bill did many good things, including make health insurance available to more Americans and restrain some of the most egregious practices of the health insurance industry. It also forced more people to become customers of that industry. What the bill did not do is reform the health care system. Wendell Potter explains why not, and what went wrong.” ―Howard Dean

“Wendell Potter transformed the national debate over health care when he stood up and told the truth about the health insurance industry.By breaking the insurance industry's code of silence and explaining to his fellow Americans how health insurance companies put profits ahead of patient care, Wendell showed extraordinary courage. The compelling story of Wendell's conversion from a health care executive to an outspoken reform advocate is essential reading for anyone trying to understand the American health care system.” ―Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia

Deadly Spin makes clear what reporters were--and are--up against as they try, and often fail, to make the complex pros and cons of health care reform clear to citizens, as big-money players misdirect and obfuscate. More important, it illuminates what citizens are upagainst as they try to figure it out.” ―Mike Hoyt, Executive Editor, Columbia Journalism Review

“You're the Daniel Ellsberg of corporate America. I mean, what that man did during Vietnam helped to end that war . . . People should read this book. The whole book lays it right out there about how the health insurance companies had bamboozled this country and lied, just outright liedabout things.” ―Michael Moore to Wendell Potter on Countdown with Keith Olbermann

“To get the country back on track, Potter exhorts consumers to adopt a healthy dose of skepticism toward corporate doublespeak. That's a sound prescription, one which no American can afford not to have filled.” ―Joshua Kendall, The Boston Globe

“A gripping indictment.” ―Kate Pickert, Time

DEADLY SPINis a must-read for all who want to learn more about what [the health reform law] is and what it is not. It is a handbook for social change.” ―John Presta,New York Journal of Books

“The book's as dramatic and suspenseful as a good novel.” ―Linda Greene, The Bloomington Alternative

“Potter's Deadly Spin is an eye-opening account of the backroom antics of industries that do harm. You won't look at issues the same way after you read this book. If you can understand how ‘spin' works, you will be able to understand the money and tactics used to distort the truth. And we need to know the power propaganda has on us all.” ―Kari Burns, Chicago Life Magazine

“The health insurance industry's worst nightmare.” ―

“Wendell Potter, former vice president of corporate communications with insurance giant CIGNA, now a fellow with the spin-busting Center for Media and Democracy, used media appearances and testimony before Congressional committees to expose the dark manipulations of fact that insurance firms use to preserve for-profit healthcare. Then he put it all on paper with a terrific book” ―The Nation

“Eloquent . . . Despite the damning revelations throughout his book, Mr. Potter's indictments of the industry he once served are far from heavy-handed; instead, they are suffused with the kind of transcendent empathy one finds in those who have undergone profound personal transformations.” ―Dr. Pauline Chen, Well Blog, New York Times

“An illuminating, up-to-the-minute testimonial sure to garner widespread attention and controversy.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“[Potter] ridicules the notion that America's free-market system can provide actual health care within a for-profit structure . . . This whistle-blower perspective will heighten discussion and debate on the vital topic of health care in America.” ―Mary Whaley, Booklist

“Trenchantly critiques the failure of America's for-profit health-insurance system: the underhanded methods insurers use to ‘dump the sick'; the skyrocketing premiums and deductibles that put health care beyond the reach of millions; the obscene salaries executives rake in while denying benefits to patients. These criticisms aren't new, but Potter's street cred and deep knowledge of the industry make his indictment unusually vivid and compelling.” ―Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Wendell Potter is a Senior Fellow on Health Care for the Center for Media and Democracy. In 2009, he retired after a twenty-year career as a PR executive for health insurers to speak out on both the need for health care reform and the increasingly unchecked influence of corporate PR. He is a native of Tennessee.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars 159 reviews
82 of 87 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating glimpse at the "men" behind the curtain Nov. 19 2010
By Wayne Klein - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Health care continues to limp on in the United States. We are ranked 46th out of all the Top 50 nations for health care in the world. Part of the issue is that health care is run like any other business and yet it isn't truly a business--profiting on someone's else's health or denying coverage for a pre-existing condition (or stating that a technique is experimental when, in fact, it isn't so as to deny coverage and keep the patient alive)is a form of gambling but it gambles with people's lives which makes it Wendell Potter worked for what he would probably characterize as the "enemy" now for over twenty years. As a PR executive he would weave lies into a positive "truth" for the company he worked for (Cigna) making it appear that they were always doing the right thing for their patients. Using statistics to lie is one thing (for example dropping people off the unemployment rolls that are reported to make it appear that the nation is covering when it isn't)but Potter would often twist the truth or help craft messages to appeal to middle America to scare the public from reform in health care.

One day Potter had an awakening and realized what he was doing was wrong leaving the industry that had nurtured him and becoming an advocate for proper health care and a government based system to force corporations to play fair. He just couldn't stomach hiding greed behind the veneer of double speak falling into a rabbit hole with language that only George Orwell would recognize. He chronicles his rise in the industry and his disillusionment and how the media is manipulated, patients, government to make decisions that are profiting major corporations at the cost of our health and lives. This is as much the story of his awakening as it is about the PR manipulation of the public around health care issues and trying to demonize the discussion of universal healthcare as part of the debate.

Potter's exceptional book "Deadly Spin" takes us behind-the-scenes into the wheeling and dealing that goes on with multiple PR flacks that try and spin doctor any change that threatens their profit as bad for the average consumer. Potter gives us a history of the PR game to help us understand WHY and HOW this is unethical (especially by the ethics guidelines dicated by the PR association).

The health care industry from health plans to pharmaceuticals have for too long had access to lawmakers (using the money that we pay them) to push forward their own agenda and "buy" politicians in Washington; that's nothing new it just just become more blatant than before. Using misinformation, front groups to suggest that any sort of reform is bad, these organizations have been directing America down a path with overgrown foilage and rough terrain where the patient must always suffer. Potter's book takes the curtain that these companies hide behind and let's us see the thought process, innner workings and how misinformation manipulates the public to make the wrong choices while allowing politicians to make those choices knowing they are wrong without ramifications.

Is "Universal Healthcare" the way to go? I don't know but I do know that the insurance industry is scared of it. Potter points out how people like him would manipulate the media and politicians to paint Universal Healthcare as "communist" or "socialist" in nature to taint any and all intelligent discussion about the positives and negatives scaring people away before dialog had even begun.

Potter suggests that having some sort of system like this in place would be helpful in redefining the way we take care of our health. The recent changes with Obama Care he points out aren't perfect but is a step in the right direction (--his complaint was that corporate America shaped it (this is Potter's opinion mind you I don't know that I agree with him on this point but it is food for thought).

I don't know that I agree with all of Potter's suggestions (for example I think that given our economy Obama Care should have been a lower priority--right in the middle of the worst economic downturn in ages-- and when it did become a priority it was so badly compromised that the changes--small as they were and some positive--are meaningless in the over all big picture)but I have to admire him for waking up from the money inspired opiate-like dream that has entranced everyone else in his former industry. I also feel that Potter would have done better to give us more in depth examples of why the system breaks down consistently but what we do get is pretty embarrassing.

Regardless of where you stand on healthcare-- if you believe or don't believe in universal healthcare--Potter's book is essential reading for understanding the flaws in our system and how corporate profit continues to dictate who gets coverage, who doesn't and why we are ranked so poorly compared to other nations when it comes to health care.

48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be required reading for every member of Congress Dec 2 2010
By OldRoses - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The title of this book, "Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans" is a bit off-putting. Reading it, I mentally prepared myself for a diatribe written by a disgruntled low-level employee out to get his pound of flesh. We all know that health insurance companies are in the habit of denying coverage and raising premiums, occasionally exorbitantly, but they aren't all that bad, right? Surely not as bad as the Wall Street firms that first took away our retirement savings and then our jobs.

I worked in the financial industry for 25 years. Nothing I saw there was as heinous as what is revealed in this book. Put simply, Wall Street may take away people's money, but health insurance companies take away people's lives.

Author Wendell Potter was an insurance company executive, heading up a PR department. For years, he participated in the shameless pursuit of profits over lives until he finally came face to face with the effects on real people of what he was doing. Visiting a clinic set up on a fair ground offering free health care to those who had no insurance and no means to pay for health care, he saw ordinary hardworking people reduced to being treated in animal stalls.

He has written about his experience in the health insurance industry, as well as his epiphany, in a straightforward manner, making it more powerful than if he had penned an hysterical screed. He takes us, step by step through the changes in the health insurance industry from a privately held companies offering true health insurance to the modern publicly owned companies whose focus is on profits rather than health.

The lengths to which health insurers go and the collusions in which they participate are extraordinary. They routinely deny coverage to people who need it and drop coverage of people who become ill. They hire outside PR firms who form bogus grassroots groups who lobby in favor of health insurers. They provide statistics to back up all of their false claims that any kind of healthcare reform is bad.

Potter devotes an entire chapter to revealing how health insurers torpedoed Healthcare Reform using all of the dirty tricks he had discussed in previous chapters. The reason we have no public option is because it would put the health insurance industry out of business prompting them to wage all-out war against it.

It took the death of a child who was denied a liver transplant to convince Potter to leave his job with CIGNA. He devotes his time now to healthcare reform advocacy and as a health insurance critic. He testified during the healthcare reform debates, but obviously not enough people listened to him.

In my opinion, this book should be required reading for every member of Congress. They need to know how they have been bribed and manipulated by the health insurers to do what's best for the health insurance industry instead of what is best for the people who elected them to office.
128 of 143 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Summary of Health Care Insurance Issues Nov. 16 2010
By Loyd Eskildson - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Wendell Potter was formerly in charge of public relations for Humana and then Cigna. Potter's intent in "Deadly Spin" is to expose the deceptive techniques of public relations in the insurance segment of health care. He does this quite well, and also provides readers with insight into the two events (the large turnout, including many with illusionary health insurance, for a free Pennsylvania dental and medical clinic; the death of a young girl after his employer dithered and delayed approving a necessary transplant) that turned him against continuing to defend the industry he had been part of for some 25 years. Potter begins by introducing readers to a sampling of tested phrases that have served the industry quite well, such as 'socialized medicine,' 'government-run' medicine, and 'government takeover' of medicine. Readers also gain exposure to other P.R. favorites, such as identifying with patriotism and the American way of life, testimonials, name-calling, smearing opponents (eg. Michael Moore and his "Sicko"), identification with plain folks, fake grassroot campaigns, junk science and statistical analyses, and euphemisms. A brief tour of the darker side of health insurance practice likewise is given - rescissions (retroactively canceling policies of those with large medical bills, using whatever pretext possible), and purging less than profitable accounts via large rate increases. Missing, however, is any comment on the fact that if the uninsured paid the same rates as insurance companies, much of the need for health insurance would go away, and a large proportion of medical bankruptcies avoided.

Universal health coverage began under Germany's Otto Von Bismarck in 1883, with Social Security following in 1889. The motivation was neither altruism or socialism, but to provide leverage against the labor and socialist movements of the day. Health insurance quickly spread - Austria (1888), Hungary (1891), Norway (1909), England (1911), Russia (1912), and the Netherlands (1913). Unfortunately, the momentum took almost 100 years to get to the U.S.

Some of the most disturbing revelations in "Deadly Spin" are that 'ObamaCare' is not a 'cure-all.' For example, it will not stop employers from only offering high-deductible plans such as the $30,000 for some families in Maine. Nor does it remove the ERISA liability protection for employer-sponsored plans. However, it will sharply reduce medical bankruptcies, the key reason for 62% of personal bankruptcies in 2007. Hopefully, it will also reduce the amounts paid for executive salaries and retreats - WellPoint spent over $27 million on staff retreats in 2007-08, while William McGuire, United Health CEO for 12 years, was paid almost $2 billion for his leadership ($620 million was 'clawed-back' because of fraudulent option back-dating). (Comparison: Dr. Donald Berwick, an extremely well-regarded expert in charge of care for the 103 million receiving Medicare or Medicaid, receives only $176,000/year.) Hopefully, the $52.4 billion spent on stock buybacks instead of medical care by the 7 largest insurers from 2003-08 will also either cease or be drastically diminished.

An important side effect of our market-based health-care system is the very high administrative overhead - about 31%, per some estimates, compared to 3% for Medicare. Duplicity and high lobbying costs are two more - America's health insurance plans donated $86.2 million to the U.S. Chamber's lobbying against 'ObamaCare' in 2009, while promising President Obama on tape that they were in support.

Mr. Potter is unquestionably qualified and sincere in his effort. Unfortunately, limiting the scope to his personal expertise both enormously understates the size of America's health care problem, and unfairly skews the focus towards insurance firms. The U.S. spends 17.3%+ of GDP on health care, despite not covering some 40-50 million. Compare that to competitors Japan (about 7.2%), Taiwan (about 6%), and China (4%). Reducing our expenditures to Taiwan's level would save about $1.7 trillion/year, and also reduce unfunded Medicare and other health care liabilities for retirees by close to $30 trillion. Most of the problem is due to excessive service charges (about 2X those of other nations), and excessive utilization by profit-maximizing physicians. Solutions require not just Potter's recommendations for limiting monopolistic practices by health care insurers (providers are also guilty) and mandating higher MLRs, but also restructuring health care to combine insurance and care provision in the manner of Kaiser Permanente (California), the V.A., the Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, Bassett Health Care, and Geisinger Health System. Physicians must be predominantly paid by salary, to discourage excess care. It will also require that the U.S. emulate every other developed nation that I'm aware of by mandating strict price-controls for medical services, and limiting the ability of drug makers to mislead patients and providers with overly expensive 'new' products that are no better than existing ones.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye Opening !! Dec 15 2010
By dkj - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I just finished Wendell Potter's book and, to be perfectly honest, am somewhat depressed about the state of politics and public decision making in our country.
As a former healthcare executive in a for-profit company, I do understand the pressures and ofttimes conflict between the best possible care and the most profitable course. "Deadly Spin" portrays this accurately but goes much farther to show exactly how public opinion is molded and how decision makers at all levels are motivated to do the companies bidding. This book shows how out of whack our whole manged care and health insurance industry is where a few companies control prices and costs on both sides of the supply and demand equation. I have purchased a quantity of this title and will send it out to friends with the caveat that they too pass it on. This book is a must read for Americans looking to understand what is really happening in Washington regarding current and future health care. Thanks Mr. Potter.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book to Enlighten The Un-Enlightened Dec 28 2010
By Jane Austen - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have long been baffled how "public opinion" could be so easily manipulated. This book explains how. Anyone with an open mind willing to learn something needs to read this book.

Of course I have long known about corporate spin, but this book puts a new face on it.
It is a pity that so many can be fooled into actually working against their own best interest, and be so ill informed of their role in the game

This is not a book on the health care debate. It is a book of enlightenment into Corporate America that every participating citizen should be appraised of. No one could be better qualified in explaining it better than a PR insurance executive (Wendell Potter)charged with developing and executing the Spin.

Whether you attribute Mr. Potter's "coming out" to the altruistic reasons that he states in his book is inconsequential.
As many books have been written on this same subject (not specifically health insurance companies) by many notable authors, and they all confirm Mr. Potter's assertions of how things actually work. How big money usually wins, and people are fooled. The book is very well written, full of interesting information and engaging to the very end. I highly recommend it.