President Obama and Congress: If You Missed Wise County, Join Me in L.A.

The insurance industry, its business allies and its shills in Congress are doing their best once again to scare us away from real health care reform, just as they did 15 years ago. Using the same tactics and language they did then, insurers and their cronies are warning us that America will be sliding down a slippery slope toward socialism if the federal government creates a public insurance option to compete with the cartel of huge for-profit companies that now dominate the health insurance industry.

One of the false images they try to create in our minds is of long waits for needed care if our reformed health care system resembles in any way the systems of other developed countries in the world--systems that don't deny a single citizen access to affordable care, much less 50 million of them.

Here is a real image, and a very scary one, that I wish those overpaid insurance executives and members of Congress could have witnessed before dawn a few days ago: a thousand men, women and children standing for hours, in the dark, in a line that seemed to be endless, waiting patiently for a chance -- a chance because the need is so great many are turned away -- to get much-needed care from a volunteer doctor.

That is the scene they would have witnessed if they had bothered to come to the Wise County, Virginia, fairgrounds for the 10th annual Remote Area Medical (RAM) Expedition, a thee-day event in the southern Appalachians that grows larger every year as more and more Americans join the ranks of the uninsured and the underinsured.

Among those standing in line were people who thought they had decent health insurance until they really needed it. They found out the hard way that the policies insurers are forcing most of us into these days require us to put much more "skin in the game," as insurers say, so we will be more prudent "consumers" of health care.

When I came to the Wise expedition as a curious insurance company public relations executive two years ago, I was so shaken by what I saw that I knew immediately I was doing PR for the wrong side of the health care reform debate. A few months after that I walked away from a job that paid me very well to be one of the industry's mouthpieces.

When I returned to Wise last week, this time as someone trying to pull the curtain back on despicable insurance industry practices such as "purging" people from insurance rolls when they become sick, I was even angrier, even more outraged at what passes for a health care system than I was in 2007.

Knowing the industry as I do, it takes extraordinary callowness and heartlessness to surprise me. I didn't think I was capable of being shocked by insurers' greed.

I was wrong. What I learned is that many people who stand in those long lines at RAM events (the Wise expedition is the organization's 575th), are people who have been told by their insurance companies that they should call RAM if they don't have enough money to get needed care because they can't afford to pay their out-of-pocket expenses.

That's right, insurance company bureaucrats, who are under constant pressure from Wall Street analysts and investors to spend less and less of every premium dollar they receive from us to pay medical claims, are telling their policyholders to seek charity care. They are telling them to go stand in long lines, in the dark, at events held once a year, to get the care they thought their insurance companies would pay for just so they can put more of their premium dollars in the pockets of their executives and shareholders.

When I heard that I asked how much money RAM, a nonprofit organization that depends entirely on donations, has received this year -- or any year for that matter--from the insurance industry. I knew the answer but wanted to ask it anyway. If you guessed nothing, you guessed right.

Back in the early '90s, when the insurance industry was spending millions of dollars, as it is now, to scare us away from any additional involvement of the federal government in our health care system, one of the executives I wrote speeches for quoted 18th century economist Adam Smith's famous line about the ruthless "invisible hand" of the market in calling for less, rather than more, government regulation of the industry.

He was right: the invisible hand has indeed been ruthless. Fifteen years after he gave that speech, far more Americans are uninsured and underinsured. Millions of people have lost their homes or filed for bankruptcy because they couldn't afford to pay their medical bills. Thousands of our family members and neighbors have died needlessly because they didn't go to the doctor or pick up their prescriptions because they didn't have adequate insurance.

On behalf of the millions of men, women and children who will suffer the same fate unless Congress passes real reform this year, I am issuing this invitation to President Obama and members of Congress: join me at the next RAM event, which will be held over eight days next month in Los Angeles (August 11-18).

Congress, if you must take your August vacation, spend a day or two of it -- or a few minutes of it, if that's all you can spare--helping to register the many thousands of your fellow Americans who will be standing in long lines, in the dark, waiting for the doors of the Forum to open. Chances are you visited the Forum in years past to see the Lakers play. Be prepared this time to see it fulfilling an entirely different function, and be prepared to look those folks in the eye and explain why you needed to go on vacation before passing health care reform. And explain to them why many of you are saying we just can't afford reform, so let's just call the whole thing off and let the private market continue to work its ruthless magic.

Remember, Congress: while you are on vacation, 150,000 Americans will lose their insurance, many of them will file for bankruptcy because of mounting medical bills, and at least 1,500 will die because they don't have coverage that gives them access to care they need.

I'm looking forward to seeing you in L.A.

Wendell Potter is the Senior Fellow on Health Care for the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin. A version of this article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.


The gov. is run by the Americans, and very rich Americans. Not to say they wont try, but it's much harder for them to scam us than the greedy fat rich bastards that have their talons in us now. The fed. gov. will also be regulated.

"Thousands of our family members and neighbors have died needlessly because they didn't go to the doctor or pick up their prescriptions because they didn't have adequate insurance." Can you provide evidence to support this claim? And while you are providing evidence for this claim, would you please provide additional documentation about your statement that 50 million people do not have access to health care?

I'm evidence but I have not died yet! I don't have a serious condition but I'm a recent college graduate who had been on a ADD medication for over 6 years. When I graduated my insurance ended, had a very popular ADD medication with a price tag of $230 for a one month supply, and no refills. SO you would think that's not a big deal RIGHT? Think again. ADD meds are highly addictive to the body even at the lowest dose which I was on, and cause horrible withdrawals that can often lead to suicide. Unable to pay for the medication or make doctor visits every month to fill my medication I decided to stop. Three days later I was not able to go to work, and began my 9 month battle with severe depression, unable to work, suicidal, severely fatigued, and finally developed severe insomnia. I had no money, could not afford to take any more meds, and despite my suicidal urges and cries for help I was denied free health care on the basis that I was a recent college graduate and young. My family has no health insurance, and my mother had recently lost her job. I would have ended up homeless on the streets if my family had not taken me in. I could not stop sleeping for the first 3 months, I as most ADD patients rely on ADD meds on a every day basis, and after taking the meds for a long period of time the mind becomes lazy and relies on the meds for completing tasks or even waking up in the morning. What is scary to me is that I had always refused to increase my dosage, and have no addiction history. I don't drink or smoke, and in all very healthy. So now one year and half later, my depression is better, but I still cannot work or concentrate, or even clean after my self. Six years of college, highly skilled, and I still feel like a vegetable. I came close to suicide 3 times in the past year of recovery, and I was one of the better ones. If I did not have my family by my side to stop me, I would be one of the dead people. Do you know how many children and college students are on ADD meds these days? So just do the math, go and read how many blogs have been written about people like me who either cannot get insurance or are denied insurance. So are we to just die because our pills every month have no refills, or are too expensive? I went on ADD meds to help get through school and to improve my grades, and I have ended up worthless, depressed, suicidal, and one day away from being homeless all because I lost my insurance, and could not afford the medication on my own, and was even denied free health care. Some times I wish I had died early on so I did not have to feel so worthless. I cannot tell you how angry I've become at America, and how I was left to die on my own without any care or assistance. I was left to die, and not even my own doctor would return my call because I no longer had insurance to pay for his time.

I am 53 and I have been uninsured for 99.9 percent of my adult working life. I am self-employed as a legal transcriptionist. I wanted to echo this young man's difficulty with withdrawal from expensive prescription meds, especially psychotropics. I was refused the meds to withdraw safely from Paxil, which I was on for six years. It was a medication that I was unnecessarily on, as I was not suffering depression or anxiety, I simply had a difficult situation at home involving another family member, my son with Asperger's Syndrome who is also an alcoholic. There were many times during my withdrawal, which was in every way akin to this young man's, that I would have loved to have medical care but could not access care easily, and I wasn't able to drive for the first two years of withdrawal, although I did continue to work (I work at home), because I had no choice. I did call the clinic I had been going to and left a message for my doctor who had prescribed the Paxil. I called her twice in increasing agony and never got a call back. But I will also say that most doctors totally scoff at the idea of severe withdrawal from SSRIs, although it now widely documented, as well as the outright lies by companies like GSK that they knew of this all along. There is no guarantee in getting off SSRIs that you will not have a very rocky road, as can be attested to by many of the people on the support site, a site that without the good people there I would have been dead, as I had no idea what was happening to me. I had never experienced suicidal thoughts at any time in my life prior to Paxil and it was terrifying, the urge was so strong. But this brings me to the point that as more people lose their jobs and their insurance they are, like me being forced, to cold turkey off these drugs and other psychotropics. It's a very, very dangerous situation. All of these drugs are highly unpredictable. I also wanted to put PaxilProgress on here because if you are going through difficulties with any type of psychotropic drug you will get support and kindness here. We have people here who are withdrawing from a number of these drugs. It's a site like no other I have seen on the web. There are many people, like me, who are, as I said, alive thanks to this site and the people that went through this hell before me.