"I owe the American people an apology."  Health insurance executive apologizes for creating argument against Medicare for All.

As someone currently going through the process of "choosing" a health insurance plan through an employer, I can attest to the fact that "choice" is a pretty misleading word when it comes to healthcare.

Thankfully, I don't have to wonder if I'm just being finicky.

Wendell Potter, former vice president for communications at Cigna Healthcare, has taken to Twitter to explain how the "preserving choice" talking point in U.S. healthcare discussions is meaningless. How does he know? Because he helped come up with it.


Check this out:

"Lately I've noticed some Democratic politicians defending the current healthcare system by saying it preserves 'choice' for Americans," he wrote. "As a former health insurance exec who helped draft this talking point, I need to come clean on its back story, and why it's wrong and a trap. When I worked in the insurance industry, we were instructed to talk about 'choice,' based on focus groups and people like Frank Luntz (who wrote the book on how the GOP should communicate with Americans). I used it all the time as an industry flack. But there was a problem."

RELATED: If Americans understood how absurd our system is, we'd all be demanding universal healthcare

"As a health insurance PR guy, we knew one of the huge *vulnerabilities* of the current system was LACK of choice. In the current system, you can't pick your own doc, specialist, or hospital without huge 'out of network' bills. So we set out to muddy the issue of 'choice," he continued. "As industry insiders, we also knew most Americans have very little choice of their plan," he explained. "Your company chooses an insurance provider and you get to pick from a few different plans offered by that one insurer, usually either a high deductible plan or a higher deductible plan."

Yyyyup.

"Another problem insurers like mine had on the 'choice' issue: people with employer-based plans have very little choice to keep it. You can lose it if your company changes it, or you change jobs, or turn 26 or many other ways," he explained. "This is a problem for defenders of the status quo. Knowing we were losing the 'choice' argument, my pals in the insurance industry spent millions on lobbying, ads and spin doctors — all designed to gaslight Americans into thinking that reforming the status quo would somehow give them 'less choice.'"

Interesting. I'm not the only one starting to feel a bit ragey here, right?

Potter went on to share an advertisement from a campaign, explaining, "An industry front group launched a campaign to achieve this very purpose. Its name: 'My Care, My Choice.' Its job: Trick Americans into thinking they currently can choose any plan they want, and that their plan allows them to see any doctor. They've spent big in Iowa."

"This isn't the only time the industry made 'choice' a big talking point in its scheme to fight health reform," he continued. "Soon after Obamacare was passed, it created a front group called the Choice and Competition Coalition, to scare states away from creating exchanges with better plans."

The rage. It burns.

RELATED: He went to the ER in Taiwan, then his "Horrors of Socialized Medicine" post went viral.

"The difference is, this time *Democrats* are the ones parroting the misleading 'choice' talking point. And they're even using it as a weapon against each other," Potter pointed out. "Back in my insurance PR days, this would have stunned me. I bet my old colleagues are thrilled, and celebrating. The truth, of course, is you have little 'choice' in healthcare now. Most can't keep their plan as long as they want, or visit any doctor or hospital. Some reforms, like Medicare For All, *would* let you. In other words, M4A actually offers more choice than the status quo."

FOR THE LOVE. GET IT TOGETHER, AMERICA.

Potter signed off explained how all this political talk of "choice" serves no one but the insurance industry.

"So if a politician tells you they oppose reforming the current healthcare system because they want to preserve "choice," either they don't know what they're talking about — or they're willfully ignoring the truth. I assure you, the insurance industry is delighted either way."

For the umpteen-millionth time, the U.S. is the only developed nation not to provide some form of universal healthcare to its citizens, we pay twice as much for healthcare than other high-income countries, and our health outcomes are not any better for it. We need universal healthcare and we need it now. And we need to thank Wendell Potter for breaking ranks with his former industry and sharing this insider information with all of us.

This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015

Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

It starts early, with the movies we are plopped in front of as toddlers.

Keep Reading Show less

This article originally appeared on August 27, 2015

Oh, society! We have such a complicated relationship with relationships.

It starts early, with the movies we are plopped in front of as toddlers.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."