View Full Version : Profit VS Life

Gayle in MD
01-07-2011, 08:43 AM
Published: January 6, 2011
Late in 2007 I found myself riveted by a case playing out at the University of California, Los Angeles, the medical center where I trained and had once worked as a transplant surgeon. A 17-year-old girl named Nataline Sarkisyan was in desperate need of a transplant after receiving aggressive treatment that cured her recurrent leukemia but caused her liver to fail. Without a new organ, she would die in a matter of a days; with one, she had a 65 percent chance of surviving. Her doctors placed her on the liver transplant waiting list.

Wendell Potter.
Nataline’s case was not all that different from the more than 200 liver patients I had seen successfully transplanted every year at that institution. She was critically ill, as close to death as one could possibly be while technically still alive, and her fate was inextricably linked to another’s. Somewhere, someone with a compatible organ had to die in time for Nataline to live.

But even when the perfect liver became available a few days after she was put on the list, doctors could not operate. What made Nataline different from most transplant patients, and what eventually brought her case to the attention of much of the country, was that her survival did not depend on the availability of an organ or her clinicians or even the quality of care she received. It rested on her health insurance company.

Cigna had denied the initial request to cover the costs of the liver transplant. And the insurer persisted in its refusal, claiming that the treatment was “experimental” and unproven, and despite numerous pleas from Nataline’s physicians to the contrary.

But as relatives and friends organized campaigns to draw public attention to Nataline’s plight, the insurance conglomerate found itself embroiled in a public relations nightmare, one that could jeopardize its very existence. The company reversed its decision. But the change came too late. Nataline died just a few hours after Cigna authorized the transplant.

Not long afterward, I spoke with a former nursing colleague who had cared for Nataline. The anger in her voice was still palpable as she recounted the protests in which she had been involved. “This was a 17-year-old girl,” she said. “How could anyone with a conscience — anyone who is human — do this to another person?”

While the public fury over Nataline’s death has abated, that question of conscience in a health care system dependent on for-profit insurers has lurked behind nearly every debate over health care reform. While few politicians have dared to openly address this inherent conflict of interest, one unlikely individual has consistently spoken up over the last year and a half to remind us of this moral dilemma.

In articles, interviews, op-eds and testimony on Capitol Hill, Wendell Potter has described the dark underbelly of the health care insurance industry — unkept promises of care, canceled coverage of those who get sick and fearmongering campaigns designed to quash any change that might adversely affect profits.

He should know what he is talking about. For 20 years, Mr. Potter was the head of corporate communications at two major insurers, first at Humana and then at Cigna.

Now Mr. Potter has written a fascinating book that details the methods he and his colleagues used to manipulate public opinion and describes his transformation from the idealistic son of working-class parents in eastern Tennessee to top insurance company executive, to vocal critic and industry watchdog. Using little of the fiery rhetoric or lurid prose that usually marks corporate exposés or memoirs of redemption, the book, “Deadly Spin” (Bloomsbury, 2010), is an evenhanded yet riveting account of the inner workings of the health care insurance industry, a cautionary tale that doctors and patients would be wise not to miss.

For a man who has spent his professional life tinkering with impressions, Mr. Potter has astartlingly straightforward narrative voice; he wastes no time cutting to the chase: “It was my job to enhance those firms’ reputations. But as one of the industry’s top public relations executives and media spokesmen, I also helped create and perpetuate myth that had no other purpose but to sustain those companies’ extraordinarily high profitability.”

Mr. Potter goes on to describe the myth-making he did, interspersing descriptions of front groups, paid spies and jiggered studies with a deft retelling of the convoluted (and usually eye-glazing) history of health care insurance policies.

The most moving section is devoted to Nataline Sarkisyan. We learn that executives at Cigna worried that Nataline’s situation would only add fire to the growing public discontent with a health care system anchored by private insurance. As the case drew more national attention, the threat of a legislative overhaul that would ban for-profit insurers became real, and Mr. Potter found himself working on the biggest P.R. campaign of his career.

As busy as they might have felt in the days leading up to Nataline’s death, he and his staff were inundated with calls from the news media immediately afterward. To bolster what was seen as a fight for its survival, Cigna hired a large international law firm and a P.R. firm already well known to them from previous work aimed at discrediting Michael Moore and his film “Sicko.” Together with Cigna, these outside firms waged a campaign that would eventually include the aggressive placement of articles with friendly “third party” reporters, editors and producers who would “disabuse the media, politicians and the public of the notion that Nataline would have gotten the transplant if she had lived in Canada or France or England or any other developed country.” A “spy” was dispatched to Nataline’s funeral; and when the Sarkisyan family filed a lawsuit against the insurer, a team of lawyers was assigned to keep track of actions and comments by the family’s lawyer.

Next Page »



01-07-2011, 09:04 AM
Why didn't the doctors just perform the transplant?

How do you excuse them?

Are they not also guilty under this scenario of putting profit over life?


01-07-2011, 10:40 AM
Gayle that article is blatantly B.S. When you are selected for transplant you go on the list. When your name comes up and you are a match and you meet the criteria you get the transplant.Almost all transplants are done at university hospitals which are free.
If you have ins that helps for the next patient who doesn't have ins. So you should get some education on transplant before posting something you know nothing about. We don't sell organs in this country and your article pretty much says different.
BTW for profit insurers is why we have liver transplants in the first place. The money we spend on our health care goes into R&D which goes into medicine that is cutting edge.