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Former Insurance Exec Speaks Out on Health Reform

Until last year, Wendell Potter worked for both Cigna and Humana health care for two decades. He's now a senior fellow on health care with the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal research group. He speaks to Gwen Ifill as part of an ongoing series of conversations on health care reform.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    The debate over the public plan as part of health care reform is next. A leading Republican who has been part of Senate negotiations, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said he believes the scope of a health care bill should be scaled back.

    But during today's radio interview, President Obama said he still supports a public plan. He also said that prior comments by Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius did not mean he had a change of heart. Here's some of what he said about the public plan.

  • U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    What we've said is we think that's a good idea, but we haven't said that that's the only aspect of health insurance. And what she essentially said was, is that all these other insurance reforms are just as important as the public option.

    The press got a little excited, and some folks on the left got a little excited about this. Our position hasn't changed. We think that the key is cost control, competition, making sure that people have good, quality options. If we're able to achieve that, that's the end that we're seeking. And the means, you know, we can have some good arguments about what the best way to achieve it is, but we've got to change, because the status quo is unsustainable.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    The president later said he would pass a bill without Republican support in the Senate, if it becomes necessary.

    And that brings us to the latest in our series of conversations about players and thinkers about health care reform. Gwen Ifill has tonight's, which also looks at the public plan. It was taped before the president's latest comments.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    In our last conversation, we heard from the CEO of the Aetna insurance company. Tonight we get a very different perspective from a former health insurance executive.

    Until last year, Wendell Potter worked for both Cigna and Humana health care for two decades, most recently as Cigna's chief spokesman. He's now a senior fellow on health care with the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal research group.

    Welcome, Mr. Potter.

    WENDELL POTTER, Center for Media and Democracy: Thank you very much.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    When it comes to this debate we're having in Washington about the public option, the so-called publicly backed insurance option, how essential or negotiable do you think that option is?

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