Former public relations chief encourages students to work for the common good

By Patrick Gallagher
January 28, 2010

A former national spokesman for the health insurance industry said that he had to quit after he witnessed crowds of people lined up to get free health care because they were not able to get health insurance. He said he could no longer represent an industry that left so many Americans uninsured.

Wendell Potter, former Public Relations chief turned reform advocate, spoke to a collection of the Cabrini community in the Widener Lecture Hall on Thursday, Jan. 21. After witnessing ethical misconduct within his past job in health care, Mr. Potter had to decide what he believed in and how he was going to act accordingly.

“Are we working for the common good,” Potter said.

This simple question was the basis for his speech and what helped influence his decision to ultimately jump sides in the health care battle. Potter was the former head of corporate communication and the company’s chief corporate spokesman at CIGNA Corporation, a global health insurance company.

His decision to quit and start as an activist against the health care insurance industry was based primarily on that concept.

He spoke to the students and teachers about the balance of achieving their own individual goals and staying on an ethical high ground.

“I was able to see the troubled parts of the insurance health care company and its crooked ways,” Potter said.

Potter spoke of an ethical standard that he was taught through college. He had a professor that taught him that in any business there might be situations that cross the ethical boundary and that we should not just turn a blind eye. Potter learned in college that he had a responsibility to the public and not just to the company he worked for.

“Once I was able to step out of the larger scale of things I was able to spot easier the lies that big businesses were feeding everybody,” Potter said. “Almost 50 million people don’t have insurance and about 25 million are underinsured.”

Potter has seen firsthand what a private health care insurance company will do and what lies they produce, and is now an advocate against them.

Potter has taken his stories all the way to Congress where he shared his knowledge on the inter workings of health care companies.

Potter told a story of a man out in California in the Silicon Valley that made a large amount of money. The man had his insurance through his wife because he was very sick at one point in his life and was unable to get insurance on his own. His wife then lost her job and their health insurance. The man had gout, which is an inflammation of the big toe.

This man could have used his money for other important things, but because he was denied insurance he was stuck using his hard earned money on his medical bills.

This is just one example of difficulties people face with health insurance companies and one story Potter is sharing with our national leaders in Washington.

Potter reinforced the idea about not being scared to do what is right. He stressed that we all must be willing to take a risk in order to succeed. And finally we must “face our fears,” when making our career decisions.

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Patrick Gallagher

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