WENDELL POTTER: I was very isolated, along with most insurance company executives who deal with numbers all the time—profit margins and medical loss ratios and earnings per share and how many millions of members you have, or things like that. It’s just—they’re just numbers. And I didn’t really associate that with real people as much as I should and as much as most insurance company executives should, until I went to visit my relatives in Tennessee.
And while I was there, I happened to learn about a healthcare expedition that was being held at a nearby town across the state line in Virginia. And I was intrigued, borrowed my dad’s car and drove up to Wise County to see what was going on there. And this expedition was being held at the Wise County fairgrounds, and it was being put on by this group called Remote Area Medical that got its start several years ago taking volunteer doctors from this country to remote villages in South America, where people really don’t have any access to medical care. The founder realized pretty soon, though, that the need in this country is very, very great, and he started holding similar expeditions in rural communities throughout the country. And this one was nearby. I decided to check it out.
I didn’t have any idea what to expect, but when I walked through the fairground gates, it was just absolutely overwhelming. What I saw were people who were lined up. It was raining that day. They were lined up in the rain by the hundreds, waiting to get care that was being donated by doctors and nurses and dentists and other caregivers, and they were being treated in animal stalls. Volunteers had come to disinfect the animal stalls. They also had set up tents. It looked like a MASH unit. It looked like this could have been something that was happening in a war-torn country, and war refugees were there to get their care. It was just unbelievable, and it just drove it home to me, maybe for the first time, that we were talking about real human beings and not just numbers.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what did you do with that?
WENDELL POTTER: Well, it took me a while to just really process it. I came back to work. I knew at that time that I couldn’t continue doing what I was doing. It just didn’t seem like it was ethically the right thing for me to do. My first career, I was a journalist, and I had been in PR, though, for many years. And I came to realize that much of what I was doing now—or then—in my PR career was just the opposite of what I was trying to do as a journalist. But still, you know, I had mortgage payments. I had other bills to pay. And it was just—it was difficult to work through this and figure out what do I do and how do I—what do I do next?
But then, you know, just two or three weeks later, I was having to fly to a meeting, and I often would fly on one of the corporate jets. And while I was doing that, I was served my lunch on a gold-rimmed plate, was given gold-plated flatware to eat my lunch. I was sitting in a very spacious and luxurious leather chair. And it just dawned on me for the first time. I had done this many times. But because of the Wise County experience, I just realized for the first time that someone’s premiums were helping me to travel that way and were paying for my lunch on gold-trimmed china. And then I thought about those men and women that I had seen in Wise County, undoubtedly not having any idea that this is the way that insurance executives lived and how premium dollars were being spent. And that got me closer to making an ultimate decision that I had to leave.
Incredible. go read the whole thing.