NC Blue Cross relaunches 'scapegoat' campaign

CHAPEL HILL, NC: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina has relaunched a controversial campaign that emphasized insurance companies are not the sole reason for increasing healthcare costs.

CHAPEL HILL, NC: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina has relaunched a controversial campaign that emphasized insurance companies are not the sole reason for increasing healthcare costs.

The “Let's Talk Cost” effort uses goats to portray doctors, insurers, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, consumers, and attorneys to emphasize “scapegoating” does not generate solutions.  

The initiative also featured guerrilla marketing with goats, or people wearing goat heads, appearing at farmers' markets, community events, and baseball games. Blue Cross and Blue Shield also launched a companion site,, that features blog posts from employees and experts.

After the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina campaign concluded last fall, the organization conducted research to figure out what worked and what didn't.

“Our audiences acknowledged that health insurers weren't the primary party at fault for out-of-control costs, but they were still interested in knowing what Blue Cross was doing to address the problem,” said Michelle Douglas, PR manager at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. “That's why you'll notice that phase two shifts focus from talking about the problem, to focusing on what Blue Cross and others are doing to bring solutions to the table.”

These ideas include flat-fee care, an approach where patients pay one flat fee for medical procedures. It is also providing a treatment cost estimator through its “Find a Doctor” search on its member services site. Customers can compare the cost and quality of non-emergency treatments and procedures at different hospitals and imaging facilities around the state, the organization said.

The insurer declined to disclose the budget of the campaign, which was co-developed by Capstrat. Phase 1 of the Let's Talk Cost effort was criticized in the state.

“The intent is to use humor to disarm opponents of Blue Cross,” said Adam Linker, a policy analyst at the North Carolina Health Access Coalition. “Instead, [the campaign] has annoyed people who already feel that the insurance company spends most of its time fighting efforts to control costs at the legislature.”

Linker added that the campaign also irritated consumers who see it taking place when premium rates are increasing.

“During a recession, when people are struggling to pay for health insurance, it seems in bad taste to launch an expensive ad blitz,” he said.

Others saw the effort as a step in the right direction. “It's made people think, and not immediately jump to conclusions [about healthcare costs], one way or other,” said Greg Griggs, EVP of the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians. “I think that was really the whole idea behind the campaign.”

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