HMOS: Try To Project A Kinder, Gentler Image
Managed care companies are attempting to stem the tide of negative public opinion that has plagued them in recent years with new advertising campaigns. The organizations' business practices are under attack from all sides, including watchdog groups, state legislatures, the U.S. Congress -- and most worrisome for HMO executives -- their own customers. Consumers' "worry stems from a basic fear that someday they will be sick and won't get what they need because it costs too much," the AP/Akron Beacon Journal reports. Thus, HMOs around the nation are using advertising strategies which imply that the particular HMO running the ad differs from the norm. Donald Johnson, editor of Health Care Advertising Review, said, "It's the beginning of a trend. You're going to see more of this as the health plans figure out they have a real problem."
The Ministers Of Propaganda
Tracy Carlson of KSK Communications, the firm that produces George Washington University Health Plan's advertising, said, "We like to start with the point of reality for consumers. Basically, people hate managed care." KSK's spots contrast GWHP's values with the industry at large, with slogans like: "It's a diagnosis, not a business decision." An Illinois HMO's ad promises: "We want to be your health plan, not your doctor." Preferred Health Network in Baltimore promotes itself under the slogan: "Where the doctors make the decisions." A handful of industry executives have expressed reservations about the tone of the campaigns, because they reinforce "negative stereotypes about managed care." John Ori, ad manager for HMO Illinois, disagreed: "It's not bashing. We're very careful not to go head to head and bash other people in the industry. But it's a fine line" (Meckler, 2/19).