UPDATED BELOW: ABC RESPONDS
Six years ago, Joe Cameron survived more than two months on life support, racking up a bill of more than $1 million. He paid less than $2,000 thanks to the health insurance he had through Medicare Advantage. Needless to say, he's pleased with his outcome, and now speaks highly of the program that paid for his life-saving care.
But in a segment December 19, "Good Morning America" portrayed Cameron as a shill for the insurance industry. Host Chris Cuomo called Cameron "a favorite example for the insurance industry," saying he is a go-to interviewee when they don't want to talk about cases like Angela Dispenza, who claims her insurance company refused to pay for medically necessary rehabilitation after a back injury.
Cuomo said the insurance company refused interview requests for his story, and that the company referred ABC News to Cameron to America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the insurance industry's national association.
"What UnitedHealthcare didn't tell us is Cameron has been flying around the country to lobby in favor of the program," Cuomo said, splicing in footage of Cameron meeting with President Bush.
So does he get paid to praise private insurance and Medicare Advantage? "Hell no," Cameron told the Business & Media Institute in a telephone interview Wednesday. "They have never paid me one dime compensation."
"Around the country," as Cuomo said, amounts to one trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with elected officials - including President Bush - about Medicare Part D, Cameron said.
Cameron said he has taken three other trips to the nation's capital at the expense of outside organizations like the Coalition for Medicare Choices, an AHIP-affiliated organization that took Cameron to a conference in Washington, D.C., in October featuring several hundred beneficiaries, and RetireSafe, a grassroots organization that advocates a free-market approach to Medicare.
"It irritated ... me very badly because I am not representing any insurance company in respect to my story," Cameron told BMI. "I'm angry now cause of the way they did me, because they made the implication that I was affiliated with the insurance companies, that they were flying me all over the nation and that I'm their spokesperson," Cameron said. "I'm not their spokesperson. I'm speaking for Joe Cameron."
Cuomo did not respond to requests for comment on Cameron's complaints.
UPDATE: In an e-mail to the Business & Media Institute Thursday, "Good Morning America" spokeswoman Bridgette Maney said, "Our reporting was based on a number of interviews with Mr. Cameron and the story is accurate."