The country is poised to undertake comprehensive healthcare reform. Late last month, President Barack Obama revealed a $634 billion plan for healthcare as part of his proposed budget. The White House's proposals include a number of reforms to wide-ranging healthcare policies, including changes to Medicare and Medicaid and payment cuts to hospitals, insurers, and drugmakers.
While many healthcare companies, insurers, and organizations have been involved in the reform dialogue for years, those that have already positioned themselves to have a seat at the table will have a better chance at having their opinions heard and solutions considered by policymakers.
“There's a real critical role that insurers and pharma are going to play, not just in this reform process, but even after we have legislation,” says Chris Foster, chair of the US healthcare practice at Burson-Marsteller. “They're going to have to deliver on the promise of improving access, delivering more quality, [and] controlling the cost of medications... so it's important to be involved in that dialogue earlier than later.”
An insurer might want to argue the issue of mandatory pre-existing coverage for health plans, Foster notes, but it could have more success saying to Congress or the White House, “In order for that to work for us, here are two or three things we have to have in place.”
AstraZeneca noted in a statement to PRWeek that as it reviews the healthcare proposals under consideration by Congress, it will ask about market competition that leads to improvements in health outcomes, maintains or increases patient safety, expands coverage for the uninsured, and encourages innovation.
“We know that we have to be part of the conversation to be part of the solution,” the statement read.
Cigna, one of the country's largest insurers, is one company that has focused its attention on educating its consumers about the complex issue of reform.
It has shared its position on different issues with its members, such as what it believes the role of the government should be and what individual insurance mandates should look like. It also changed the wording it uses to describe healthcare topics; it now says “physician,” not “provider.”
“In order to be a leader, you need to be able to educate people,” says Chris Curran, director of corporate communications at Cigna. “You need to be able to make people understand what the issues are and simplify those issues.”
Curran adds that the company has been positioning itself in this space for years as part of an overall effort to change the way Cigna does business because consumers have become more involved with their healthcare and prevention has become a bigger issue.
Foster says no single company has stepped out as a true leader, and that's a mistake.
“There are certainly companies that are big enough and are doing important enough work that can and they should begin to lead,” he says. “The mistake would be to not engage in this national dialogue earlier, and try to get in later when, quite frankly, perceptions may have formed, legislation may be drafted, and... the train may have left the station.”
“Communication drives policy,” he adds.
AARP, which has 40 million members and is a founding member of the Divided We Fail coalition, has made healthcare a cornerstone issue for itself for 50 years. Drew Nannis, director of media relations for the advocacy team at AARP, says the group is now focused on communicating to and educating its members about the issues being discussed in Washington.
He notes that companies and organizations – which must represent their members' stake in reform – need to have as much “buy-in as possible,” and “certainly you want to be at that table.”