The Rise And Fall Of Obamacare: Will Inside Story Be Told?

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Above Photo: by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0

My friend and former colleague Wendell Potter, the CIGNA insurance public relations chief who saw the evil of his ways and left his job, is starting a new non-profit journalism enterprise called Tarbell.

The investigative story I want to see from Wendell is one I am sure he will never tell:  an insider exposé of the ugly rise and fall of Obamacare.  This is a story Wendell knows inside and out, but I doubt he will ever really come to grips with its truth: Obamacare was a pro-industry Democrat scam that destroyed an opportunity for single payer education and reform and ultimately brought devastating political ruin to the Democrats themselves.

I welcomed Wendell Potter to the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) staff in May, 2009,  just before I retired from CMD as its Founder and Executive Director.   Wendell arrived with a $100,000 grant in hand from TIDES Foundation to support his work as an insurance industry insider turned NGO reform activist and whistle blower. He testified before Congress,  was featured by Bill Moyers Journal, and became a popular and admired public face of the liberal health reform movement in America.

Before I brought Wendell into CMD, he assured me that he was committed to single payer, but that turned out to be false.   Instead, Wendell promoted Obamacare, a sop to the drug and insurance industry which helped the Democrats keep single payer ‘off the table,’ effectively killing real health care reform in America.

I estimate that TIDES and other liberal foundations, individual donors, unions and corporations dumped over $100 million into the Democrats well-oiled NGO lobby and PR effort to pass Obamacare. Much of this money moved through or was coordinated by a rich but short-lived lobby group called Health Care for America Now. HCAN’s scores of members included US Action, MoveOn, SEIU, AFSCME, and the usual liberal laundry list of Democrat-aligned NGO organizations.  Wendell participated intimately in its PR and lobbying and knows its story well from the inside.  That is what I would pay Tarbell to tell, because it is a story that America needs to hear, now that Obamacare is being destroyed by its own contradictions, corruptions, and the rise of Trump.

I told Wendell in the Fall of 2009 that Obamacare, nothing but a recycled Heritage Foundation scheme, was a guaranteed failure, that it completely undermined single payer reform, and that it would certainly blow up in the face of the Democrats. He responded that as long as the so-called “Public Option” was part of it, it was worth supporting.  But the Public Option was stripped out by Obama and the Democrats, and then the rationale of the Democrats’ progressives in the HCAN lobby became ‘we must still support Obamacare and our President because not to do so would embarrass him and his key legislative proposal.’

Today it is clear that Obamacare has become a very bad movie, one rich with dark irony as we are now to witness its horror film ending: evisceration and decapitation by the Trump-led Republicans.  (Vincent Price should rise from the dead to narrate this one!)  Consider this: it was Obamacare alone that fueled the rise of the GOP’s Tea Party movement and led directly to the Democrats’ Congressional defeat in 2010.   It was then the failures and shortcomings of Obamacare, a political WMD in the hands of the political Right, that set the stage for the rise of Trump and his ascendancy to President.

That, in synopsis, is the true, tragic tale of Obamacare.   Wendell Potter witnessed and participated in this from the inside, and his insider story could blow the whistle on the Democrats and their NGO lobby, something that America needs to hear and understand.  The rise and fall of Obamacare is a crucial tale to understand how to bring about single payer in the future and, just as important, how the Democrats are adept at coopting and derailing such fundamental reform to serve industry and their own corrupt political agenda.

Unfortunately I don’t expect Wendell Potter and Tarbell to ever blow the whistle on Obamacare.  Hey, Wendell, surprise me!

  • DHFabian

    Ah, that’s the spin? Obamacare destroyed the Democrats! There was a 100% chance that universal health care would not get through Congress. When people demand all or nothing, they usually end up with nothing. The ACA that Obama submitted to Congress went through the infamous “legislative sausage-making” process, and the ACA that came out of it was a very different product, as expected.

    How naive (at best) to write that Obamacare “ultimately brought devastating political ruin to the Democrats themselves.” The destruction of the Dem Party began years ago. The Reagan Democrats of the 1980s leaned to the right to merge with the Clinton wing in the 1990s. Middle class liberals embraced the Clinton neoliberal agenda, implemented to the beat of a rock and roll song. They never bothered looking back.

    The Dem voting base had long consisted of the masses — poor and middle class, for the common good. The Clinton wing split this base wide apart in the 1990s, and liberals have disregarded the consequences for the past 20 years. Obama was regarded as the last chance to turn things around, and it was worth a try. Liberals weren’t interested, and Dems in Congress blocked him every step of the way, continuing to target the poor. We’re more split apart by class and race than we were eight years ago — and this isn’t because of Obamacare. Democrats can’t win elections with only a fraction of its voting base, so yes, the Party is over for the foreseeable future.

  • gardensheila

    Obamacare was a recycled Republican heritage foundation plan that the dems tried to sell. But the dems have been trying to sell corporate profiteering for a long time now. No doubt in my mind that the disastrous rollout of Obamacare gave the dems a very bad black eye. Pushing the tpp certainly didn’t help put any salve on that disaster. Obama’s aloof attitude toward the constant obstructionist shenanigans of the repubs gave those of us who used to be dems less hope than ever. Then the dems force Hillary on us, and the result is a demagogue and sociopathic henchmen. Both parties represent the wealthy, tho the repubs don’t include wealthy gays or people of color or women in their cohort. Unless you’re a wealthy minority, the dems just throw a few crumbs and lip service. The repubs are at least effective at their game, and perhaps the dems are feeling their effectiveness as well, quietly and secretly enjoying their demise as the party of the people. Who gives a shit about the people if they aren’t self-sufficient and excellent and frequent consumers of luxury goods? Like weapons of war and fuel for their private jets?

  • kilgoretrout

    I share the authors critique of the ACA and was a critic at the time, unlike Potter. But I think it is excessive to say his decision to support it at the time is some kind of moral failing that taints Potter’s work. There is room for well-meaning people to have had a different opinion as to whether or not “killing the bill” was a good idea and at the time I wanted to kill the bill. And would tell anyone now that it is imperative we replace the ACA with single-payer. I would go so far as to say it is probably the most important issue for the left, save for global warming.

    I do think it would be appropriate for Tarbell to write about the industry’s role in the ACA (to this day it is fighting to preserve much of it against TrumpCare because of the profit it provides). Maybe I am naïve but I am not inclined to believe Potter would, today, argue that the ACA is so successful that we shouldn’t support something like HR676. I hope I am right.