Insurance Industry Myths About the Uninsured

Wendell Potter | iWatch News | June 11, 2012

In 2007, a few months before I left the health insurance industry, I was tasked to write a “white paper” designed to help convince media folks and politicians that the problem of the uninsured wasn’t much of a problem after all. If demographic data was sliced just so, I was expected to write, it was easy to conclude that many of the uninsured — some 46 million at the time — were that way by choice.

I was told to point out, for example, that a significant percentage of people without coverage were in families with annual incomes of $75,000 or more. The implication: That those folks were simply shirking their responsibilities. A crucial fact that I was not to disclose, of course, was that many Americans, including wealthy ones, couldn’t buy coverage at any price because of pre-existing conditions. These are the “untouchables” as far as insurance companies were concerned. (That’s my term, not the industry’s. The underwriters prefer the term “uninsurable.”)

I also was expected to stress that most young adults — who comprise the largest segment of the uninsured — had chosen to “go naked” because they felt invincible. They simply didn’t want to pay good money for insurance because that cash could better be spent keeping the fridge stocked with Bud Light. To perpetuate that myth, we even came up with a catchy name for those twenty-somethings — the “young invincibles.”

Our message to America: Don’t feel sorry for those irresponsible bums, and by all means don’t let Congress pass any new laws that would require insurers to cover them. Having to write that paper was one of the reasons I resigned. As the father of a couple young adults, I knew that their crowd did not consider themselves invincible. They simply did not have money left over after paying student loans and the rent to buy health insurance...