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Health Insurance Whistleblower Reveals How Industry Will Attack Warren’s New Plan

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Now that we’ve seen Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan to pay for Medicare for All without raising taxes on the middle class, let me tell you what is happening in Washington.

Forbes Tate, the Washington-based PR firm hired by big insurance, drug and hospital companies to create and run a front group called the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, will already have convened an urgent conference call with its clients to go over Warren’s plan and begin implementing a strategy to attack it. A big part of that strategy will be to reach out to reliable industry allies to do the dirty work.

One of those allies is likely to be the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), a supposedly nonpartisan organization that issued a widely publicized report on October 28 insisting that, as Axios reported in its analysis of the report, “the middle class would be forced to shoulder some of the burden” of financing Medicare for All.

The wisdom put forward by Washington pundits and think tanks like CRFB has been that improving and expanding Medicare to cover everybody, as both Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders advocate, can’t be done without a significant tax hike on middle-income earners.

But much to the surprise of the insurance industry and its allies, Warren has just unveiled a plan that would not increase taxes on the middle class—in fact, it would slash what average Americans spend on health care and even reduce what the nation’s employers pay to subsidize health insurance for their workers. And Warren found that upon a closer look, there is enough money concentrated in the hands of the rich and corporations to finance a large chunk of Medicare for All.

The health insurance industry believed it was marching Warren into a trap, and now they’re scrambling to come up with a response to preserve their treasured but failing cash cow: the employer-based health insurance system.

The advocates of preserving the U.S. employer-based system—most notably America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) and Forbes Tate’s Partnership, of which AHIP is a member—will be forced to quickly come up with new talking points.

As the former head of corporate communications for Cigna, one of AHIP’s biggest members, and a former member of AHIP’s strategic communications committee, I can assure you that health insurers will find Warren’s plan terrifying because it will force their employer customers to question the need for, the “value proposition” of, private health insurers.

Even before Warren rolled out her plan, I had heard from employers all across the country that the current system no longer works for them, that it simply is no longer economically sustainable for either them or their employees.

Employers of all sizes have woken up to the reality that private insurers cannot and do not want to control ever-escalating health care costs. They are fed up with being hit year after year with double-digit premium increases and having to push their workers into high-deductible plans.

Their fury has been building for years as they have seen bigger and bigger hits to their bottom lines because of an expense they have little control over—the cost of providing coverage to their workforce. As the Kaiser Family Foundation has documented, over the past two decades, the cost of an employer-sponsored family plan has soared from $5,791 (in 1999) to $20,576 (in 2019).

As those premiums have gone up, employers have had to ask employees not only to pay an ever-increasing percentage of those premiums, but they have also reluctantly had to move more of them into high-deductible plans—to the point that, according to the Commonwealth Fund, “a quarter of working-age adults with job-based coverage had such high out-of-pocket costs and deductibles relative to their income that they were effectively underinsured.” That means that even though they and their employees are paying more for their coverage, the value of that coverage is decreasing.

Plus, workers are becoming increasingly aware that employer-sponsored coverage is anything but secure. They know that if they lose their jobs, they also lose their employer-sponsored health insurance. And they are also becoming increasingly aware that, unlike Medicare, private insurers are limiting their choice of doctors and hospitals.

Despite all that, we can expect the insurance industry to press its allies into service to attack Warren’s plan.

In my old job at Cigna, I worked with many organizations that agreed to carry health insurers’ water whenever the status quo was under threat. Expect groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (to which AHIP quietly funneled $100 million ten years ago in an effort to kill what became the Affordable Care Act), the National Federation of Independent Business (which I worked with in the late ’90s to kill the Patients’ Bill of Rights), and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), a longtime ally, to come out swinging against Warren’s plan.

It is especially notable that NAM is a member of the Partnership, and it also has a vested interest in protecting private insurers despite the challenges its members are facing with rising premiums and health care costs. NAM has recently jumped into the health insurance business with UnitedHealthcare, the nation’s biggest private health insurer. They have teamed up to sell association health plans to employers who want to offer coverage to workers that is exempt from the protections provided under the Affordable Care Act (and consequently less comprehensive and valuable).

We can also expect the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget to weigh in again. That is another organization I worked with in my old job. That’s because the CRFP’s longtime president and CEO, Carol Cox Wait, was also a longtime member of the Cigna board of directors. Wait is still a CRFP directoras is my former colleague William Hoagland, who was Cigna’s chief lobbyist in Washington when I was head of corporate communications. We worked hand in glove.

Wait made millions of dollars during her 16 years on the Cigna board (1995-2011). Cigna pays its directors very well. In 2011 alone, according to Cigna’s annual report and proxy statement, the company paid her $256,884 for her board service. That’s a substantial amount of money, but Cigna also gave her thousands of shares of the company’s stock while she was a director. When she retired on December 31, 2011, she held 49,304 shares of Cigna stock, which at the time was valued at $2,070,768. Since then the share price has more than quadrupled. Those shares today would be worth more than $8 million.

Being a peer of mine, Hoagland also undoubtedly was a highly compensated Cigna employee, and he likely would have received a significant part of his overall compensation in stock grants and stock options.

So the next time you hear the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget blast Medicare for All, know that at least two of its board members most likely have a financial interest in keeping private insurance companies in control of our health care system.

And remember groups that are likely to come to the defense of the employer-based insurance system that Warren wants to dramatically reform, like the Chamber of Commerce, may (again) be receiving tens of millions of dollars from industry.

Wendell Potter is the former vice president of corporate communications at Cigna. A health insurance industry whistleblower, he is now president of Business for Medicare for All and author of bestselling books Deadly Spin and Nation on the Take.

Very Cherry Treats

By Wendell Brock, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (TNS)

In the American South, we have plenty of peaches, strawberries, blueberries and figs, often in our own backyard. Cherries, not so much.

But that does not–should not–stop us from loving the sweet little fruit that appears in stores and markets every summer. Ripe for popping, cherries are a delicious, healthy snack loaded with all kinds of vitamins, nutrients and things that are good for us.

To be perfectly honest, I think cherries are the bomb.

Last summer, I went from eating cherries out of hand to cooking with them, and even making drinks out of them. I stirred sweet Bing cherries into cobblers (with or without peaches and other fruit). I crushed them in a glass, added bourbon, a generous glug or two of ginger ale and a few drops of orange bitters, creating a bright red summer sipper that accentuated the sweetness of the cherries and the smoky allure of the whiskey.

Then, on a trip to Door County, Wis., I tasted my first fresh tart cherry, and my world changed.

Door County, a picturesque peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan, is known for its sour Montmorency cherries: ruby-red gems that zing with a haunting complexity redolent of wine and spice. So lovely and so petite, so delicate in their demeanor, they make the sweet cherries we import from Washington, California and Oregon seem downright common.

It was at Seaquist Orchards just outside Sister Bay, Wis., that I sampled my first Montmorency and met up with cherry baron Dale Seaquist, who gave me a tour of his farm and told me about the lady visitor who once inquired: “When do these cherries go ‘bing’?” (Cymbal crash.)

A strapping, garrulous Wisconsinite, Seaquist, who had a vintage cherry-red Studebaker in the back of his warehouse with a “do not touch” sign on the window and wore a red-and-white-check shirt, is the best mouthpiece the Door County cherry industry could hope for.

It only makes sense that most cherry pies are made from tart cherries, Seaquist said, because they are smaller. Ergo: You can pack more cherries into the pastry and every bite. And who doesn’t want more cherries?

At Seaquist Orchards’ market, I discovered fresh-baked cherry pies and house-made cherry fudge, cherry jam and cherry salsa, cherry juice and cherry cider, dried cherries, frozen cherries, fresh cherries. And I developed a serious case of cherry fever.

At Parador, a tapas restaurant in the town of Egg Harbor, I had charcuterie paired with Door County cherry jam. At 109-year-old Wilson’s Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor in Ephraim, I inhaled a vanilla ice cream sundae loaded with hot fudge sauce, Door County cherries, whipped cream and pecans.

At what may be America’s cutest pie shop, Sweetie Pies in Fish Creek, I chatted with owner Cathy Mazurek and wolfed down a slice of her peach-and-cherry pie and got some cherry bars to go.

Back in Sister Bay, at Fred & Fuzzy’s Waterfront Bar & Grill, I slurped a wonderfully sweet-tart Door County cherry margarita.

And at the White Gull Inn in Fish Creek, I had what “Good Morning America” viewers voted the best breakfast in the nation back in 2010. That would be the inn’s Cherry-Stuffed French Toast: slices of egg bread with pockets of Wisconsin cream cheese and Door County cherries, topped with real maple syrup. Gracious goodness, that stuff is good.

If you ever get to Door County, you won’t forget those cherries.

Unfortunately, fresh tart cherries of any kind are not to be found in some cities, such as Atlanta, though you can find sour cherries in canned pie filling and dried.

As Seaquist told me, these juicy little Midwestern Montmorencys and other tart varieties are a challenge to ship. However, you may order dried Montmorencys from any number of sources, and they are great for cookies, bars, granola, etc. They are good in salads (how about some cherry-pecan sal?) and may be chopped and added to salsas, relishes and chutneys.

I had terrific luck with the dried and frozen Montmorencys I ordered from Friske Orchards in the neighboring state of Michigan, the nation’s No. 1 state for tart cherries. As research for this story, I made an amazing meat loaf studded with Montmorencys and slathered with a catsup-y cherry sauce. I’m saving the rest for cherry pies and White Gull’s killer French toast.

So here’s the thing about cooking with cherries. They are versatile. So if you can’t find sour, most sweet varieties work just fine, though might add a little lemon juice or zest to impart tartness. After heating up the kitchen to make cherry baked goods, I’ve decided that cold cherry treats–like ice creams, smoothies, cocktails and salsa–are the way to go in this hot summer season.

There’ll be plenty of time for cherry baking this fall and winter. Right now, it’s time for a pick-me-up, so I think I’ll dump some cherries, bananas and nonfat yogurt in the blender and slurp my troubles away.

CHERRIES THREE WAYS

Here are recipes for a cool cherry salsa, a cherry-and-apricot clafoutis and cherry-bourbon ice cream. To pit cherries for the clafoutis, just poke the stem end with a wooden chopstick, and the pit should pop out.

CHERRY SALSA

This is a perfect way to enjoy fresh sweet cherries (or tart, if you can find them) as a summer snack with tortilla chips. Basil adds a hint of anise to the relish. But feel free to create your own recipe, using mint, cilantro, scallions, hot sauce or whatever mild or hot peppers you have on hand. Lime juice may be used in place of lemon.

The salsa keeps well in the refrigerator, and would be delicious with grilled meats, chicken or as a stand-in for cranberries with turkey.

1 cups stemmed, pitted and chopped cherries (may use sweet or tart)

1/3 cup chopped onion (may use white, yellow or red)

Zest of one small lemon

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon finely minced jalapeno pepper, seeds and stem removed (may use other chiles of choice, such as Serrano or Thai)

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon salt

2-3 tablespoons chopped sweet basil (may use Thai basil)

Place the cherries, onion, lemon zest and juice, jalapeno, Worcestershire sauce and salt in a small bowl and mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings. (If using tart cherries, you may want to add a bit of sugar; start with 1 teaspoon, then more as needed.) Cover and chill for at least one hour before serving. Just before serving, stir in chopped basil. Makes: Almost 2 cups

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 5 calories (percent of calories from fat, 4), trace protein, 1 g carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 36 mg sodium.

CHERRY AND APRICOT CLAFOUTIS

This classic French flan is a quick and easy way to show off summer fruit, especially sweet cherries. In the French region of Limousin, black cherries were traditionally left unpitted because the stone was said to enhance flavor. Try that at your own peril. If you don’t want to use apricots, try peaches. Or omit altogether and use a full pound of cherries. Leftovers are good for breakfast.

1 pound sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted

4 apricots, pitted and halved

2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided

1 tablespoon kirsch or rum (optional)

Butter, for greasing pan

1 cup whole milk

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

Confectioner’s sugar for dusting (optional)

Place cherries and apricots in a medium bowl and top with sugar and kirsch or rum (if using). Toss well to coat and allow to sit for 30 minutes. Grease a 9 {- or 10-inch tart pan or glass pie plate with butter.
Strain the fruit over a bowl, reserving liquid, and arrange the fruit in the baking dish.

Place the reserved fruit syrup, milk, remaining 1/3 cup of sugar, eggs, vanilla extract and flour in the bowl of a blender. Mix at highest speed for 1 minute; then pour in the baking dish. (If you don’t have a blender, beat the milk, eggs and vanilla extract until just mixed; add flour and mix until smooth and frothy.)

Bake in a 350-degree oven until the clafoutis is firmly set at the center and nicely browned, about 1 hour, 15 minutes. (A toothpick or knife inserted at the center should come out clean). The clafoutis will puff up, then settle as it cools. Allow to cool briefly, about 15 minutes. Slice into wedges and serve. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar if desired. Serves: 6-8

Per serving, based on 6: 241 calories (percent of calories from fat, 17), 6 g protein, 43 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 4 g fat (2 g saturated), 112 mg cholesterol, 56 mg sodium.

CHERRY-BOURBON ICE CREAM

Cherries and smoky sweet bourbon are a heavenly marriage, especially when folded into this rich vanilla custard. You may also use rum or brandy. Chocolate sauce or shavings would be a nice addition.
For the cherry-bourbon sauce

1 cup halved pitted cherries

3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons bourbon

For the vanilla ice cream

1 cups heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

1 cup granulated sugar, divided

A pinch of kosher salt

1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

5 large egg yolks

To make the sauce: Place pitted cherries, sugar, and 1 tablespoon water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until syrupy, 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes. Stir in bourbon. Cover and chill until to ready to make ice cream.

To make the ice cream: Combine heavy cream, whole milk, \ cup granulated sugar and a pinch of kosher salt in a medium saucepan. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape in seeds; add pod (or use vanilla extract). Bring mixture just to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat. If using vanilla bean, cover; let sit 30 minutes.

Whisk 5 large egg yolks and remaining \ cup sugar in a medium bowl until pale, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in { cup warm cream mixture. Whisk yolk mixture into remaining cream mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat a wooden spoon, 2-3 minutes.

Strain custard into a medium bowl set over a bowl of ice water. Place vanilla bean back in the custard. Let cool, stirring occasionally. Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

When ready to make the ice cream, fish the vanilla bean out of the custard and discard. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container, and fold in cherry-bourbon sauce. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours and up to 1 week. Makes: About 1 quart

Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appetit magazine, August 2013

Per 1 cup serving: 309 calories (percent of calories from fat, 63), 4 g protein, 24 g carbohydrates, trace fiber, 21 g fat (12 g saturated), 200 mg cholesterol, 59 mg sodium.

Photo: Steven Depolo via Flickr