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Breaking with Former Employer, Actor and Self-Described Insurance Industry “Spokesjerk” Andy Cobb Calls for Public Healthcare

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As House Democrats prepare to vote on their version of a healthcare reform bill this weekend, a man who used to be the face of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida decided he’s had enough with the way the health insurance industry is impeding reform. Actor and comedian Andy Cobb used to promote Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida. But now he’s broken with his former employer and is speaking out against the entire private health insurance industry that has strongly opposed any government-run health plan. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: As House Democrats prepare to vote on their version of a healthcare reform bill this weekend, a man who used to be the face of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida decided he’s had enough with the way the health insurance industry is impeding reform. Actor and comedian Andy Cobb used to promote Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida. But now he’s broken with his former employer and is speaking out against the entire private health insurance industry that has strongly opposed any, quote, “government-run health plan.”

Andy Cobb teamed up with Brave New Films to create this video, released Thursday.

    ANDY COBB: Hey, Stretchy, what are you paying for health insurance?

    Well, how much are you paying a month in diapers?

    Do you have twenty bucks in your pocket? Then you can afford our Blue Options insurance policy.

    DIRECTOR: And cut. Now slate.

    ANDY COBB: Hi, my name’s Andy, and I sell health insurance.

    Blue Options has just added a bunch of lower…

    I was a spokesman for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida. Call me a “spokesjerk.” We’re people who make money by selling you things that you don’t need, and we’re telling you lies.

    It’s cheaper than your cell phone bill.

    Sure, if your cell phone bill is $400 a month. American healthcare is a mess, and everybody knows it. But no matter how bad it gets, insurance companies trot out their spokesjerks to charm into buying their insurance and avoiding a public option.

    ASSISTANT: We’re ready for Andy.

    ANDY COBB: They, by which I mean “I,” make money by standing in the way of reform. It’s time for change. That’s why I’m calling on leaders of the spokesjerk industry — the guy, the ShamWow dude, and Senator Bill Nelson, recipient of big money from insurance companies — to lead us, to walk away from their cash cows and tell the American people the truth.

    And us spokesjerks, we’ll be fine. There’s plenty of room in entertainment for someone who once tried to sell you the worst product in American history: private health insurance.

AMY GOODMAN: That says “Fired” after, for our radio listeners. A new video released Thursday by Brave New Films, featuring the former spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida.

Well, Andy Cobb joins us now from Los Angeles.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Talk about your time — your first experiences, why you became the Marlboro Man of Blue Cross Blue Shield, and how you changed.

ANDY COBB: Well put. You know, actors are people who lie to you. That’s our job. And what one does is one auditions for work, and one hopes one gets work. And one doesn’t really spend much time, generally, thinking about what you’re advertising.

I did do work for Blue Cross for quite awhile. It became apparent, eventually, that it was something that I needed to disassociate myself from, for reasons both political and personal. Politically, I think we’re at that time, aren’t we? Dennis Kucinich, the adorablest little congressman of them all, said it very well recently. He said, “This is the time when we have to say, ‘Which side are you on? The insurance companies or the American people?’” And for too long, I’ve been on the wrong side of that. And if Senator Lieberman can change his mind to go from the right side of this issue to the wrong side, I figure a schmuck actor like me can change his mind and go from the wrong side to the right side.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’m interested, the reaction of Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Did you get a chance to tell them directly about your change of heart? And what their reaction was?

ANDY COBB: We have not spoken. We don’t have that sort of a relationship. But I’m guessing that I won’t be invited to the holiday party this year.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Did your agent try to dissuade you about the lost revenue?

ANDY COBB: There was some discussion along those lines. And, you know, he’s — and my agent is a good guy. And, you know, I didn’t meet any bad people at Blue Cross, to be honest. It would go a lot better with sort of the progressive narrative, I suppose, if it did — if I had, but that’s not the case. You know, I met nothing but nice folks. But they’re in a monstrous system that really doesn’t work for Americans.

I’ve had a lot of personal contact with this recently, this year. As a comic, I did a benefit for my friend Alicia, who had breast cancer and, because she made the mistake of getting breast cancer while being covered by Blue Cross of California, needed comics to raise money for her healthcare. My friend James, whose mother was — got breast cancer while she was covered by Blue Cross of California, is now going bankrupt, so we had a benefit for them. So we’re essentially relying on comics to do the work of a medical insurance industry. And I wouldn’t trust comics with a lawn mower, much less a medical system. So it became very apparent that I had to disassociate myself.

AMY GOODMAN: So, why should we believe you now, Andy?

ANDY COBB: Well, it’s a good question. I was well paid by Blue Cross, of course, to say what was scripted for me. To write what I wrote, which was that piece, and to do it for Brave New Films, I was — I was paid. I was paid the union minimum, which is minimum wage. And suffice it to say, it’s a significant pay cut.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And speaking of comics, what’s your reaction to how the healthcare legislation is proceeding in the House and Senate?

ANDY COBB: Well, it’s comical. It’s unfortunate right now that we’re in a situation where it doesn’t look like we’ve got a real robust public option on the table, although it’s unfortunate, I think, that we’re calling it a “robust public option.” It sounds like we’re being sold TV dinners. My friend John Aravosis had a funny line; he said, “The only other thing that they focus-tested was a ‘buxom public option,’ and that didn’t test well.” But hopefully we’ll get a robust public option. That seems to be the thing that can give us a real option other than these private insurance companies that are doing America and their clients absolutely no good.

AMY GOODMAN: Andy Cobb, the conversations you had with Blue Cross Blue Shield, or did you, when you were actually doing the commercials, did they come in? And did actually any say to you, when you’re just sort of behind the scenes, that they didn’t believe what you were saying, either?

ANDY COBB: No. You know, it’s — to be honest, there was no discussion like that. It’s a very sort of surface conversation. There was very little discussion about the issues. One could say these are people doing their jobs. And, you know, it’s — as I say, I don’t think these people who work for Blue Cross are monsters, but it’s a monstrous system, and it has to be changed.

I would invite my fellow spokesjerks to stop what they’re doing and cross the line, as I said in the video. I would like for other people to do the same. Maybe it’s time for people like myself, Joe Lieberman and the Aflac duck to find honest jobs.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Is there an association of spokesjerks, as you say? Do they have conferences regularly?

ANDY COBB: The ASJ? Yeah, me and the GEICO lizard and that guy who goes, “That’s Allstate’s stand,” get together every now and then and have drinks, but no formal organization.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Andy Cobb, we want to thank you for being with us, actor and comedian, former television spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, has now crossed the line.

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