The Elephant in the Room

by Wendell Potter on October 17th, 2013

You can ask your elected officials, ‘Do you hate Obamacare more than you love your country?’ … but don’t expect a straight answer.

Earlier this week on MSNBC, host Thomas Roberts asked Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) a very simple question: “Do you hate Obamacare more than you love your country?

Roberts was questioning Blackburn over the government shutdown her party was using in their latest attempt to derail a law that was passed by Congress three and a half years ago, held constitutional by the Supreme Court, and reaffirmed by the people in a national election.

It’s a question that might have occured to me after my own run-in with Blackburn when I testified – or tried to – in Congress about the Affordable Care Act. And because it’s established as the law of the land, perhaps it’s a question many of us should be asking our own member of Congress.

Powerful interests influence opposition

But don’t count on getting a straight answer. People like Blackburn are far more interested in making sure that the powerful special interests – the ones who have easy access to them and who write generous campaign checks – get what they want on Capitol Hill than in making sure that their uninsured constituents get the health care they need.

I grew up in Tennessee and know her district well. It is one of the most conservative – and gerrymandered – in the country, stretching 200 miles from the wealthy suburbs of Memphis to the wealthy suburbs of Nashville. In between are counties with high rates of rural poverty and high rates of uninsured residents.

I also know Blackburn from my days in the insurance industry. I worked closely with our lobbyists in Washington and know she was one of the industry’s go-to people in Congress when we needed a champion for one issue or another. I singled her out as possibly the industry’s most reliable friend of the industry in an interview with then MSNBC Countdown host Keith Olbermann during the the health care reform debate. So her hatred of Obamacare is no surprise to me. The insurance industry can always count on Marsha Blackburn to do its bidding, whether in the halls of Congress or in front of a TV camera.

Health reform is patriotic

What is lost on Blackburn is the fact that it is patriotic to work to improve the lives of your constituents. It is patriotic to do what only members of Congress can do to end the discriminatory practices of the insurance industry that have resulted in millions of Americans – many in her district – being unable to buy coverage either because of the expense or because of pre-existing conditions that have made them “uninsurable” in the eyes of insurance company executives.

It is a good and patriotic thing to be a part of the solution to the many problems that have plagued our health care system for decades. It is not patriotic to continue to be a part of the problem, to be an obstructionist, to try to get rid of consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act just because insurance companies don’t like them.

The health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act will serve Blackburn’s constituents well because they will allow people who can’t get coverage through the workplace to become part of a large pool of other individuals, which will bring down the cost for everyone. It is important to have large pools of people – with healthy and not-so-healthy folks – to make health insurance work. It is not patriotic to do what some conservative groups are doing to discourage young people from buying insurance just to decrease the chances that the exchanges will work.

Some of Blackburn’s best friends in the corporate world are lobbyists for big for-profit insurance companies that are refusing to participate in the exchanges for fear of not begin able to make the profit margins their shareholders expect. Like Cigna, where I used to work, and Aetna and UnitedHealthcare. By sitting out of the new exchange pools, they are hoping to cherry pick healthier, wealthier people by making themselves less available to the very people the law is intended to help.

So good for Thomas Roberts for asking Marsha Blackburn the question that occurred to me when she refused to give me more than a few seconds. And good for all of us that Blackburn and her colleagues and their corporate benefactors were ultimately unable to gut a law that is making it possible for millions of Americans to finally get affordable health insurance.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Tobey Stein October 21st, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Amen Mr. Potter. Last year I was working at the home of some old folks who kept Fox News on their tv all day long. They hated president Obama with a passion, and made negative comments about Obamacare. I was not inclined to debate them since they were employing me at the time. However, now, when I ask myself “what kind of fools would vote for a politician like Marsha Blackburn?”, I remember the people who I worked for and say “oh those kind of people, decent at first glance, but politically deluded and full of partisan derision for what reason I don’t know. Is it just racism against a colored president? More likely, it’s because he’s both black and progressive. Oh my god! What could be worse than a progressive darkie? Hmmm, if you ask me Marsha Blackburn and Michelle Bachman come to mind as being infinitely worse than any black progressive I can think of, but then, nobody is asking me. I’m just a plumber. Bless you Mr. Potter for stating the obvious without sinking to the level of the ignorant who stand in the way of progress much too often in this country.

Tim Albright October 22nd, 2013 at 8:24 pm

The states are contracting with statewide organizations who sub- contract to local organizations. This is too disjointed and waters down getting the word out and the work done. ACA clients will need ongoing help making decisions about providers and claims problems which may be too much for third level contractors to handle. CMS should arrange for Obamacare application helpers to work in all 1300 SSA offices. SSA has lost 10% of staff in last 3 years. There now between 4 and 8 empty work stations in each SSA office. They total 6,000 to 10,000, altogether they are worth up to $200 million, and they are unused due to staffing losses. If not used by Obamacare, the government is wasting about $1billion over next 5 years. This would greatly simplify national PSA’a – just tell citizens to visit their local SSA office. ACA navigators should use them to reach the public. When Medicare first started, SSA offices had to be open at night and on the weekends to get everyone enrolled. We must be successful in the roll-out of customer services for Affordable Care Act. Web Site and 800# are not enough. I would not buy a car or a house that way. Many citizens need face-to-face customer service. This plan can be applied to other federal agencies and we could add a second shift of white collar workers, see or Contact or Tim at 989-701-8813

Liz October 25th, 2013 at 10:29 am

Tim, that’s the most thoughtful and intelligent response to our healthcare crisis in this country. The amount of money that has already been spent on implementing the ACA is outrageous- especially given that it doesn’t seem to have been well-spent at this point ;( Why the system wasn’t set up through the SSA, concerns me and makes me wonder if the ACA wasn’t implemented for other less transparent reasons. So many folks will not be able to afford the ACA even with subsidies and many of the most impoverished in my state will not qualify since VA didn’t expand it’s medicaid.
I’m all for a single payer system as I’ve lived in the UK and I never had any problems with their system at all. But, the ACA seems like nothing more than another corporate ruse ( keeping in mind that gov’t is always doing the bidding for corporations) to me and it does absolutely nothing to improve health outcomes in the US by improving our very broken medical industry. If America were healthy, we wouldn’t need so much healthcare!
America has become a country of such highly competitive individuals that even family members compete against one another and with that mindset comes an insatiable need to constantly prove one’s success by measuring their self worth against their wealth and material assets. This means that many Americans are too afraid to ‘ share’. After all, if the ” lazy, fat, poor folks” of this country can have the same things that the wealthy get, then it threatens their successful image. It’s all about class warfare in America anymore. It’s quite sad and every day we see symptoms ( violence, shootings, prescription drug abuse, illegal drug abuse, alcoholism, depression/anxiety, suicides, welfare and disability abuse, etc..) of the widening gap between the elite and the middle class that is putting so much pressure on hard working folks who just want to live a relatively good life in a fair economy.

I like your website. Thanks for sharing it.

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