In another life, Baucus might have done well as a snake-oil peddler’s shill in the American West, a planted huckster in the crowd insisting those transient quacks really have our best interests at heart. Only a bribe-taker such as Baucus could ignore that the United States spends a far greater share of its gross domestic product on health care than any other country – despite being one of the few industrialized Western nations still lacking guaranteed coverage for all its citizens.
The truth is that for decades, some have been riding a “uniquely American” gravy train; the same folks who’ve been buttering Baucus’ bread. And they’ll get an even more lucrative windfall in 2014 once the purchase of private health insurance becomes mandatory.
Baucus’ paymasters – who quashed a public “Medicare-for-all”-style plan that would have provided competition – were harshly excoriated by Wendell Potter, a former public relations chief for health care giant CIGNA, in a must-read 2009 interview with health reporter Trudy Lieberman.
“A public plan could offer the same benefits as a private plan at less costs because it would not have the high administrative costs, which include sales, marketing and underwriting expenses,” Potter said. “It would not be under constant pressure from Wall Street to reward shareholders.”
Potter, to his credit, left CIGNA after what he described as his “road to Damascus” moment.
“A couple of years ago I was in Tennessee and saw an ad for a health expedition in the nearby town of Wise, Va. Out of curiosity I went, and was overwhelmed by what I saw,” he said. “Hundreds of people were standing in line to get free medical care in animal stalls. Some had camped out the night before in the rain. It was like being in a different country. It moved me to tears. Shortly afterward, I was flying in a corporate jet and realized someone else’s insurance premiums were paying for me to fly that way.”