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Former insurance executive speaks out for Medicaid expansion

Teddy Nykiel

A former health insurance company executive says he left the comforts of a padded career of corporate jets and high rise offices to speak out against unfair insurance practices.

Wendell Porter spent 20 years working for Cigna, a global health insurance company. But Potter says after a young woman died because Cigna refused to pay for her liver transplant, he quit his job to become a health insurance watchdog.

Wendell Potter spoke to an audience in Columbia Thursday and explained how companies charge high premiums, deny people of coverage based on pre-existing conditions and cancel coverage when people get sick. He said he thinks Americans have been “enslaved” by insurance companies.

“Millions of people are locked into jobs they don’t like just because they are afraid to lose their benefits,” Potter said. “People are afraid to go work for small businesses or become entrepreneurs.”

Some companies are claiming the Affordable Care Act will raise premium rates and make getting coverage more difficult, but Potter said this is not the case. He said Missourians could get better coverage if the state expanded Medicaid. Missouri lawmakers voted against expanding the federal program earlier this year, but Potter said he believes they will change their minds.

“Not only is it the right thing to do for Missourians who don’t have coverage and who would be eligible, it makes economic sense,” Potter said. “It will be better for the hospitals in this state and I think also you’ll be seeing that if they don’t, hospitals will more and more begin to lay workers off. We’re already beginning to see that.”

This October, a new marketplace will open where Americans can go to compare insurance plans and shop around for the best deal. Jean Blackwood was one of more than 60 people in the audience at Potter’s speech. She said she hopes the marketplace will allow her to get the coverage she currently lacks.

“I currently don’t have any health insurance,” Blackwood said. “I’m trying to hang in there and stay healthy until I’m old enough for Medicare, or in this case, I will be eligible for health insurance through the new program, so hopefully if that all works out as planned, I’ll have some then.”

Potter said health care costs in the United States are among the most expensive in the world, even though the U.S. spends more of its GDP on health care. He said medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy.