Taking the Pulse of Health Care Reform

By Bardin, Michael D. | Public Relations Journal, March 1994 | Go to article overview

Taking the Pulse of Health Care Reform


Bardin, Michael D., Public Relations Journal


True or false? We have a health care crisis. We can provide health care to all without raising taxes. We will still have choice with health reform. We will have major health reform legislation passed in 1994.

If you answered true to all of the above, you are right. Of course, if you answered false to all of the above you might also be right.

Ambiguity is not unusual when it comes to a policy issue so major and complex. Nor is uncertainty. Despite the volumes and volumes that have been written about health reform, most people don't know much about it. For every fact and opinion voiced, a contradictory fact or opinion exists.

Soon, however, each of us will have to learn more. What is happening in health care is going to affect us all personally. We will need to become active, discriminating consumers of health care, not just passive users.

Being a consumer means making purchasing decisions, presumably by determining value for the dollar. But for many people, that's a daunting task. Determining value in health care options is something with which most people have little experience. This heightens the role and impact public relations and marketing can have, and presents numerous opportunities for various sectors of the health care industry to influence stakeholders.

New public policies, the need for public education, high stakes, universal impact and intense personal involvement--these are all conditions that give rise to special interests. Each of these special interests is turning to public relations and marketing to help persuade, convince, influence and hopefully to inform, educate and assist in making intelligent decisions.

Therefore, there are many considerations for health care public relations in the months and years ahead. Whether there is a new national health plan or not, the marketplace for health and medicine in the United States has changed forever. It is a new ball game for everyone: the patient, the physician, the health care professional, the insurer, the employer and the government.

Let's look at 10 of these considerations for public relations.

1. The public doesn't know much. Although surveys show that health reform is either the number one or two issue on the public agenda today (crime is the other), the same surveys indicate significantly little public knowledge about the nature of the health care problem or about proposals for reform. There is survey evidence indicating that most people think that the health care crisis is simply the often-mentioned 37 million Americans without insurance.

Not surprisingly, most Americans are primarily concerned about the impact of proposed changes on them and their families, yet few have formed opinions on the various reform alternatives. While the average American thinks health care needs to be changed, he or she does not want anything to happen to his or her own health care.

2. Reasons for reform are not apparent to those outside the health field. Health reform is being driven by a high level of middle class anxiety over the security of their health coverage. Yet this is not apparent in much of the public debate that seems to center on the high costs of care and on the large number of uninsured.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans are worried their health insurance will become too expensive. More than half fear their benefits will be cut or they will lose coverage of large medical bills. A third fears loss of coverage altogether. This is why President Clinton has called his proposal a Health Security Act.

3. Scores of special interests are competing. The health reform issue involves many special interests, each with considerable impact. Physicians, nurses, hospitals, insurers, consumer groups, business, labor, pharmaceutical companies and health product retailers are all in upheaval. Each wants to get a particular point of view across. Each has legitimate--and self-serving--reasons why they should be heard. …

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