Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Contamination of Policymaking by Presidential Marketing.

It seems healthcare is no more able to resist the fizzy allure of marketing than any other business enterprise. In a showy glut of tag lines, campaigns, messaging, logos, spin, jargon and positioning, hospitals are re-labeling themselves as "systems," clinics are glomming onto the term "home" and insurers are all about prevention.

In the course of its career, the DMCB has stumbled upon the phenomenon many times. For example, one of its programs was prohibited from naming itself using the word "Center." It seems the term was reserved for special use by our marketing mavens (we joked we ran afoul of the "Center for Center Nomenclature"). Another time, an allergist telephoned and announced that he had developed a "comprehensive disease management program" for refractory seasonal rhinitis.

Not a problem says the DMCB. Branding is inevitable. Who can blame hospitals, clinics, disease management programs and allergists for wanting the best possible position in their marketplaces. A few less billboards on the road to downtown Philadelphia would be nice, but heck, it could be worse, eh?

Where the DMCB draws the line, however, is when marketing or branding masquerade as either science or public policy.

For a science example, it's beginning to look as if robotic prostate surgery may offer some distinct advantages, but that's not how its being portrayed by its hawkers. The DMCB recalls a past business meeting involving a gutsy urologist-colleague who dismissed a marketing executive's efforts to portray the robotic surgery program as a special advance in the field. That doc knew the difference between science and marketing. It's too bad others haven't taken that lead.

Unfortunately, it now appears that formulating public healthcare policy isn't immune either. Check out President Obama's apparent effort, in the face of stubborn voter skepticism, to revitalize health reform with the tag line "Patient's Bill of Rights." The term was first invented in 2001, but its namesake failed to pass muster in Congress. While the policy failed, the term has lived on, not only as a lingering symbol of evil health insurer lobbying, but how medical care should be universally guaranteed - just like access to U.S. built econobox cars, low interest, income-doesn't-matter mortgages and regular rounds of golf.

The DMCB can't recall that the insurance regulating, bureaucracy expanding and demo/pilot-laden Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress under a banner of a "Bill of Rights." As far as it can tell, the term was resurrected long after the fact by HHS Secretary Sebelius on May 27.

And the campaign doesn't stop there. Presidential Advisor and health care expert/spokesperson David Axelrod is quoted using the word "message" in this New York Times article. While the purported audience is the insurance industry, let's face it: this is a former news reporter whose "sell" motivations are as transparent as many a hospital billboard.

There are a lot of Health care issues requiring a lot of policy leadership (solving the SGR, calming restless States and clarifying the intent of the MLR restrictions). Instead, the public square is being littered with worn out canards about pre-existing conditions, lifetime benefit caps and not coming-between-you-and-your-doctor, iced with unusual and heartbreaking anecdotes.

Scroll down to the bottom of this White House blog posting and check out the pic. Keeping a politely attentive, impassive and expressionless face is fast becominjg part of the insurance executive skill set. While the President is doing all the talking, the DMCB is confident that the insurers are hearing but aren't listening. They know it's not hammering out policy details. It's all about the photo op.


c3 said...

Smiling child in wheelchair


somber overpaid insurance company CEO's

This administration is on OUR side!

c3 said...

As for Center comment:

Just once I'd like to see a hospital or practice advertise itself not as a Center of Excellence but as a

Center of Pretty Good but Consistent Medicine

Now THAT would go a long way towards solving our health care issues.

Jaan Sidorov said...

The DMCB recognizes being baited when it sees it, but cannot resist.

The target of the Administration is not somber overpaid insurance company CEO's. They are merely the means to an end. So is the child.

The DMCB would like to see a hospital or practice be a Center for Value. Giving consumers their money's worth would go further in solving our health care issues.