Former health insurance executive: Current system is bankrupting country

Wendell Potter, a former health care executive, warned Monday that if the United States doesn’t shift towards a “Medicare for All” system as put forth by progressive Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (D-Mass.), the country could face serious financial trouble.

“If we don’t change and move to Medicare for All, we’re all going to be facing medical bankruptcy,” said Potter, who now advocates for moving towards a single-payer, government-run system.

Before becoming a Medicare for All advocate, Potter spent more than 20 years in the health insurance industry, serving as vice president corporate communications at Cigna and director of communications at Humana.

Since leaving the industry, he has argued that the main reason the federal government spends so much on health care is due to the inefficiency of having a multi-payer system, which he says makes it difficult to control health care costs.

“When you have a large number of insurance companies in a given market as we typically do, none of them are big enough to really negotiate in an effective way,” Wendall said. “That is the basic reason why we can’t control health care costs.”

Health care has become a leading point of contention in the Democratic presidential primary race. While all White House hopefuls want to improve the current system, they all have varying ideas of how to get there.

While some Democratic contenders have favored Medicare for All, others have proposed protecting and expanding the existing health care system under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE, a leading Democratic contender, has argued for strengthening the ACA by adding an optional government-run plan that would allow people to keep their private insurance, which would otherwise be eliminated under a Medicare for All System.

This public option approach has also been touted by other moderate candidates like former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE.

Like Biden, Buttigieg has taken aim at Medicare for all plans favored by Warren and Sanders, particularly over how much it would cost taxpayers. Though Warren and Sanders argue that such a shift would save people in the long run, the Urban Institute and the Commonwealth Fund found that Medicare for All would cost the federal government about $32 trillion over the course of 10 years.

However, Wendall maintained that a public option plan would not ultimately “get us where we need to be,” arguing that the fundamental problem with the current health care system isn’t about access, but rather about cost.

“We all theoretically in this country have access to health care, so that’s not the main issue,” he said. “It’s that we can’t afford it — even those of us who have health insurance can’t afford to get the care that we need.”

—Tess Bonn