Wendel Potter

“As one former insurance executive testified before Congress, insurance companies are not only encouraged to find reasons to drop the seriously ill; they are rewarded for it. All of this is in service of meeting what this former executive called, ‘Wall Street’s relentless profit expectations.’” — President Barack Obama, Remarks to Joint Session of Congress, September 9, 2009

Following a 20-year career as a corporate public relations executive, Wendell left his position as head of communications for CIGNA, one of the nation’s largest health insurers, to help socially responsible organizations — including those advocating for meaningful health care reform — achieve their goals.

In widely covered testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Technology Committee in June of 2009, Wendell disclosed how insurance companies, as part of their efforts to boost profits, have engaged in practices that have resulted in millions of Americans being forced into the ranks of the uninsured. Wendell also described how the insurance industry has developed and implemented strategic communications plans, based on deceptive public relations, advertising and lobbying efforts, to defeat reform initiatives.

Since then Wendell has testified before two House committees, briefed several members of Congress and their staffs, appeared with members of Congress at several press conferences, spoken at more than 100 public forums, and has been the subject of numerous articles in the U.S. and foreign media.

His new book is an expose of health insurers and a stark warning that corporate spin is distorting our democracy. Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans (Bloomsbury Press hardcover, November 2010) tells us why — and how — we must fight back.

Wendell is currently a senior analyst at the The Center for Public Integrity, a non-partisan nonprofit that produces original, responsible investigative journalism on issues of public concern; the senior fellow on health care for the Center for Media and Democracy, an independent, non-partisan public interest organization; and speaks out on both the need for a fundamental overhaul of the American health care system and on the dangers to American democracy and society of the decline of the media as watchdog, which has contributed to the growing and increasingly unchecked influence of corporate PR. He also serves as a consumer liaison representative for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

At CIGNA, Wendell served in a variety of positions over 15 years, most recently as head of corporate communications and chief corporate spokesperson. Prior to joining CIGNA, Wendell headed communications at Humana Inc., another large for-profit health insurer. Before that he was director of public relations and advertising for the Baptist Health System of East Tennessee and a partner in an Atlanta public relations firm.

Wendell began his career as a reporter covering Tennessee business and politics for The Memphis Press-Scimitar, a Scripps-Howard newspaper, before being promoted to the paper’s Nashville bureau, where he covered the state legislature and the governor’s office. He was later promoted to the Scripps-Howard News Bureau in Washington to cover Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court, and also wrote a weekly political column. Wendell served as press secretary to a Tennessee gubernatorial candidate and as a lobbyist at both the state and federal levels. He received a B.A. in communications from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and did postgraduate work in journalism and public relations.

Wendell is accredited in public relations (APR) by the Public Relations Society of America, and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Press Club. Wendell serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of WhoWhatWhy.com.

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