Wendell Potter remembers too. He was head of corporate communications for CIGNA at the time, and as such, it was his job to put the best possible spin on this story. To make the company that denied a teenage girl her last chance at life somehow look not evil. "Our deepest sympathies are with the Sarkisyan family" Potter wrote after Nataline's death. Sympathies so deep evidently, that a few months later CIGNA employees heckled and gave the finger to the dead girl's mother when she came to CIGNA's headquarters to talk about what happened.
I'm not kidding you. Employees of CIGNA gave the "fuck you" gesture to the mother of the girl they helped kill. If this Obamacare thing stands though, we might have heartless bureaucrats making life or death decisions about our healthcare. Can't have that.
Dealing with the Sarkisyan story broke Potter. He doesn't write about the heckling in his 2010 book Deadly Spin, An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out On How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care And Deceiving Americans, he does write about being relieved at the time that CIGNA wasn't mentioned by name in most of the headlines in the first wave of news stories and blog posts that followed Nataline's death, and he does tell of how the whole experience managed to finally awaken the long dormant humanity that was present in an insurance executive's soul. How a process that began the day he witnessed Americans desperate for medical treatment line up at a county fairground a day in advance of a charity health clinic...
The scene inside was surreal. I felt as if I'd stepped into a movie set or a war zone. Hundreds of people, many of them soaking wet from the rain that had been falling all morning, were waiting in lines that stretched out of view. As I walked around, I noticed that some of those lines led to barns and cinder block buildings with row after row of animal stalls, where doctors and nurses were treating patients. other people were being treated by dentists under open-sided tents. Many were lying on gurneys on rain soaked pavement. Except for curtains serving as makeshift doors on the animal stalls, there was little privacy...Dentists were pulling teeth and filling cavities, ...doctors and nurses were doing Pap smears and mammograms, surgeons were cutting out skin cancers.
...came to fruition when he had to become the point man for the company that denied a chance at life to a fully insured client. Wendell Potter quit his job, testified in front of a Senate Committee on how insurance companies "confuse their customers and dump the sick, all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors", and he wrote this book Wendell Potter was broken, and he confessed.
He confessed to the ways you are manipulated by the modern corporate public relations machine. Ever wonder why so many people insist that the government "Keep their hands off my Medicare?" Why so many people continued to believe cigarettes and cancer weren't related even after being buried in an avalanche of evidence? After reading this, you'll have an inkling as to how people can be convinced to say and believe the absurd. You'll learn how the demise of the Clinton health care reform plan led to a significant factor in today's health care mess, the transformation of Blue Cross and Blue Shields from an association of non-profit health insurers into for-profit public stock companies. You'll find out that because of a law intended to protect retiree's pension plans, you have for all intents and purposes no right to sue your health insurer when it denies you care, even if it leaves you looking death square in the face. Like any confession, it is informative, educational, and a voyeuristic window into how things really work on the dark side.
It's also unsatisfying. It should feel better to have Wendell Potter on our side, able to bear witness to the truths we have been shouting from rooftops for so long, but I found the book depressing, merely reinforcing my belief that to be on the opposite side of money in a fight is to be a permanent underdog, no matter if truth is in your corner. For every Wendell Potter there are hundreds if not thousands just like he used to be, bought and paid for and kept in line with a river of dollars, while Wendell will spend the rest of his life with nothing but the meager power of truth on his side.
If you are the type that is interested in the truth though, then by all means give the book a read. Remember as you do though, Nataline Sarkisyan is still, and will always remain, in her grave.
Deadly Spin on Amazon.
On Barnes and Noble
Or find it at a library near you.