photo by Matt Davis

ABOUT 1,000 PORTLANDERS gathered at Terry Schrunk Plaza outside city hall on Saturday, August 29, for a "Let's Get it Done" rally on health care reform. Before the event, the Mercury caught up with keynote speaker Wendell Potter, the former communications director for global health insurer Cigna. Potter quit his job in the spring and has since turned into a vocal whistleblower for reform.

MERCURY: Did you have a big salary and private jet travel?

WENDELL POTTER: I did. I had a very, very good salary. I had bonuses, stock options, and I traveled in corporate jets. It was a very good lifestyle.

Do you miss it?

On one level it's hard to give up that kind of lifestyle, but on the other hand, I'm much happier now. I feel like I'm doing much more honest work now.

Is the battle over health reform all about money for the insurance companies?

It's all about money. The one thing these companies know how to do best is to make money off of sick people.

What made you decide to leave the industry?

A couple of years ago when I was visiting relatives in Tennessee, I saw there was a health expedition being held in Southwestern Virginia, and I went there out of curiosity. When I went through the gates of [the] fairgrounds, where this was being held, I was just stunned. It was almost like a lightning bolt had hit me. To see hundreds and hundreds of people standing in line in the rain waiting to get care that was being provided by doctors volunteering their time, free of charge, to those who couldn't otherwise afford to get this care. And they were providing this care in many cases in animal stalls.

How important is it for supporters of reform to contact their legislators?

It's vitally important. It's not enough for us just to vote for people who we believe are going to be doing the right thing. We have to show them we expect them to follow through. Otherwise, the only calls they'll be getting will be from employees of insurance companies and the people they can persuade to make calls on their behalf. That's what's going on right now. [You can call Senator Ron Wyden at 202-224-5244, Senator Jeff Merkley at 202-224-3753—Eds.]

People such as Rachel Maddow, Sanjay Gupta, and Bill Moyers have asked health insurance industry people to be on the same program with you, but they have refused?

Oh yeah. Many, many, many times when I've been on TV or on radio or interviewed for print articles, the insurance industry has refused or said they just couldn't find anyone who was available to be on the same program with me. This is the kind of thing I would have done when I was in my old job.

How important is the public option of health care reform?

Vitally important. This would give people an extra choice. It's not taking choice away, and it's not a government takeover of the health care industry, which is what the insurance industry would like us to believe. It's what their shills are trying to tell us, but it's not true. It will help bring premiums down, it will be an affordable way for people to get insurance coverage, and it will be a counter to the Wall Street-run health care that we currently have.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden hasn't come out in favor of a public option.

That's right, he hasn't. He's got his own legislation he's been advocating for. I guess I can understand his point of view that he'd prefer his own legislation. When it gets to the point where it's clear his version of reform might not make it, maybe he'll come around to saying the best option, really, is for there to be a public insurance option.

So you're not concerned that he still hasn't come out and said, "We need this public option?"

You know, there are many members of congress who haven't come out and said it. And part of the reason is because of the disinformation that is out there. That's why it's so important for people to start saying, "I don't buy this anymore. I know where these lies and disinformation are coming from. And so, Senator Wyden, you need to understand that we know what's going on, and we fully expect you to get behind a public option." People need to tell him that.

So they send these statements that say they're in favor of reform, but they're not?

They're not. It's deception. They're in favor of reform if it benefits the health insurance industry. Their interests are to benefit them and their investors more than the American people.