What does it take to become a person who makes a difference to in one’s society? I recently conducted a radio interview with Dr. Linda Peeno who crystallized, for me, what it takes to become a difference maker.
In my role as a radio talk show host, I am usually able to put aside my feelings in order to bring a story out in the open for public consumption. As an interviewer, I am supposed to remain objective and dispassionate. In most of my interviews, at least superficially, I experience little trouble carrying out these standard mandates of broadcast journalism. However, my recent interview with managed health care whistleblower, Dr. Linda Peeno, has haunted me in the week following the interview.
What started out as an interview with the objective consisting of presenting the listening audience with an expose on the inherent evils of managed health care, the interview turned into what John F. Kennedy would refer to as a shining example of a “profile in courage.” Yet, it is a profile in courage that has neither been championed or rewarded. Rather, Peeno’s statements and actions have been met with denial, derision and disdain.
Certainly, Linda Peeno’s trip down whistleblower lane appeared promising when the following Congressional testimony was prominently portrayed in Michael Moore’s movie, Sicko, as Peeno told Congress, “I wish to begin by making a public confession: In the spring of 1987, as a physician, I caused the death of a man. Although this was known to many people, I have not been taken before any court of law or called to account for this in any professional or public forum. In fact, just the opposite occurred: I was “rewarded” for this. It bought me an improved reputation in my job, and contributed to my advancement afterwards. Not only did I demonstrate I could indeed do what was expected of me, I exemplified the “good” company doctor: I saved a half million dollars. I contend that “managed care,” as we currently know it, is inherently unethical in its organization and operation. Furthermore, I maintain that we have an industry which can exist only through flagrant ethical violations against individuals and the public.”
As a guest on The Common Sense Show, Dr. Peeno stated that the man whose death that she took responsibility for, in the name of managed care, saved Humana $250,000. Peeno went on to state that shortly after the man’s death, she passed by a bronze statue outside the Humana headquarters building, where Peeno was employed, that she later learned cost $3.8 million dollars. This gross contradiction led Linda Peeno to wonder out loud “How many people must needlessly die in order to perpetuate corporate affluence?”
In the 2002 Showtime production, Damaged Care, talented actress Laura Dern played the part of Dr. Peeno as the docudrama portrayed the shift in consciousness that Peeno experienced as she became managed care’s biggest whistleblower because she could not longer trade lives for corporate profits by stamping the word “denied” on a preauthorization form requesting medical treatment.
Certainly, Dr. Peeno’s Congressional testimony and the Showtime docudrama s secured her spot as an American hero, didn’t it? Of course there was a lucrative book deal along with endless public appearances championing her personal courage in the name of protecting the public. In fact, there was no lucrative book deal and Dr. Peeno’s livelihood was stripped away. After all, what managed care company would ever let her name appear on a provider’s list of physicians? To add insult to injury, Humana attempted to defame Dr. Peeno’s credibility in a June 28, 2007 press release about Sicko, when Humana declared that Peeno was never a Humana permanent, full-time employee (despite drawing a six figure salary). Humana further went on to state that Peeno was nothing but a mere part-time contractor. Humana also took exception with Peeno’s Congressional testimony by stating that the referenced patient’s healthcare plan did not include coverage for a heart transplant. Therefore, according to some twisted sense of justice, Humana claimed that the denial of coverage was valid. But isn’t that the problem here in that we permit managed care to commit rationed health care genocide on the American public and then punish the whistleblowers, like Linda Peeno, for doing no more than attempting to fulfill their sacred medical oath “to do no harm”?
For a brief while, I wondered why Humana did not issue their denials in rebuttal to Peeno’s 1996 Congressional testimony. Then I realized, it is not a crime to lie to the press, but it is called perjury when it is done in front of Congress.
Please allow me to encapsulate what Dr. Peeno did for you and for me. After working most of her adult life to become a physician, she cast all of that aside in the name of saving lives by calling attention to one of the greatest evils on the planet, managed health care. Her reward was the loss of her medical career and subsequent livelihood. And as Dr. Peeno revealed on my show, she not only lost her medical career, she lost her marriage and was reduced to living month to month.
I and many of my fellow Libertarians have frequently wondered why more Americans are not taking to the streets in protest of the corporate take over of our country. Some have sarcastically, and sometimes seriously, have suggested that too many of our citizens have been drugged, sprayed and injected with chemicals in order to induce passivity. Some have suggested that Americans are just too busy making ends meet to pay attention. Many others have suggested that the average American is so dumbed down by a failing education system that they cannot fully appreciate what we have lost to the fascist corporate power structure. However, my interview with Linda Peeno speaks to the fact that too many Americans are simply cowards and lack the back bone and the necessary personal conviction to do what Linda Peeno did.
Lest we think that President Obama will ride in on his white horse to save the health care day, please allow me one digression. If you really think that President Obama is truly going to reform health care into a patient friendly system, think again. If Obama was truly interested in reform that would benefit patients, then why isn’t Linda Peeno part of the national discussion? Why wasn’t she invited to serve on an Obama-appointed government committee on health care? After all, can anyone name a physician who has done more and subsequently suffered more for advancing the cause of patient rights? Does anyone doubt that Humana has a collection of their minions on these types of committees? Although I share in Dr.Peeno’s idea for taking the profit out of health care in order to restore a patient-centered system, I am very leery of Obama’s reform efforts which could end up being another Obamageddon.
Today, Linda Peeno teaches adjunct courses for Allied Healthcare as she attempts to make ends meet. Whoever heard of a physician without health care? In her late 50’s, Peeno says she can’t afford even the cheapest policy sold in her state. One might think that Linda Peeno would be embittered with all that she has endured, but she is not. She spoke eloquently about finding contentment emanating from within while continuing to work for reform in the health care industry. Her grace and soft spoken manner has left an indelible mark upon me.
The world did not need Linda Peeno’s medical practice nearly so much as it needed Linda Peeno’s courage and conviction. The nature of her actions and her sacrifices commands us to take a very deep look at our own character and devotion to doing what we know is the right thing. Why aren’t there more Linda Peeno’s? Just what does it take to become a meaningful reformer?
You, as the reader, have taken the first step, in developing a sense of awareness, towards understanding this modern day version of the unholy marriage between government and the corporations by merely visiting Freedom’s Pheonix. However, if awareness does not culminate in action against what we know to be wrong, then awareness means nothing.
Some of you will profess to lack the eloquence, the resources or the knowledge needed to help reclaim our lost country. Being a true reformer does not require any of these attributes. Then what does it take to help change one’s society? The attributes needed to become a reformer consists of answering one question and taking one action. Simply ask yourself, “Is this America that you want to raise your children in?” Then take a moment to reach around yourself and see if yoth caur backbone is still intact. If it is, you have what it takes. And please spare me the worn out argument that you don’t have the time. When some managed care company stamps the word “denied” on your child’s medical authorization for life-saving surgery, will you find the time then?