A healthy communications conundrum

Healthcare reform has definitely not been the hottest topic in the ongoing series of debates between wannabe Republican presidential candidates, which this week visited Las Vegas on its latest post.

Healthcare reform has definitely not been the hottest topic in the ongoing series of debates between wannabe Republican presidential candidates, which this week visited Las Vegas on its latest staging post.

The majority view is that Republicans will do all they can to rollback President Obama's healthcare reform should they be successful in gaining power in next year's presidential election.

That leaves a communications conundrum for the Department of Health and Human Services in the remaining 12-month limbo period leading up to November 2012.

It must deal with the ongoing day-to-day political combat that is already in full swing but that will grow even fiercer once the GOP locks horns with Democrats rather than fighting amongst itself to produce a candidate to take on Obama.

But, in the interim, the DHHS must also explain a large and complex new act to the general population, especially those who will be newly eligible for health insurance.

Should the act survive and run its course as planned, by 2014 there will be around 32 million new people not only eligible, but required to have insurance.

The challenge for the department is to make sure people know about the act, how to get it, and what to do with it. History shows there are massive disconnects between the number of people eligible for new benefits and those who actually take them up.

It is using the web, including a site called www.healthcare.gov, to inform citizens and lead them to appropriate providers of insurance. The site is attracting 500,000 unique visitors each month and traffic and dwell times are growing. It tells real stories of patients who have already benefited from the provisions of the act and puts them into the public domain. As a senior member of the department told me, people want to see stories about “someone like me”.

The DHHS will use all communications vehicles to get its message across, including paid media, but the effective storytelling approach is right in the sweet spot of shared and earned media.

It is a communications conundrum that will remain extremely challenging until the result of the election is beyond doubt. But a combination of smart, fast-response retorts to negative claims made on the campaign trail, allied to a storytelling communications approach to explain the benefits of healthcare reform to the US public, will be the mantra for the next 12 months.

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