The Health Care PR Debacle

In a new AdAge article, Michael Bush discusses how Team Obama lost control of the health care debate due to bad PR and communications. His opponents have used his election tactics of “grassroots marketing and email” against him, say industry professionals. I would have to agree.

Health Care is not a sexy thing to sell. Add to that the word “reform” and you’ll have the uphill battle we’re seeing now as people have the tendency to stay with the status quo rather than try something new. It is hard enough to understand the current insurance policies we do have, and would be much harder to understand an intangible proposal 1200-pages long that probably wouldn’t affect most of the people that seem overly concerned about it. Our news absorption abilities have been winnowed down to sound bites, ten second video clips, and talking heads on various 24/7 news channels. Using our fractured attention spans against us, the Republican team has come up with excellent, if false, memes – “death panels”, “killing grandmother”, and somehow in all this gun rights advocates and posters of Obama as Hitler (with a provided by such and such PAC in small type slapped on at the bottom).

Despite Obama’s oratory skills and his ability to think on his feet, he and his team have failed to provide the necessary sales techniques to get the message of this program across to the public. The phrase “public option” is vague and confusing to people at large. Clearly outlined benefits and justification for the costs of getting the program started haven’t been made clear enough. One would think that it would be simple: “No matter who you are, no matter your employment status, your health will be covered.” He has spent a lot of time saying as much but it seems to not be resonating (or at least isn’t as exciting news to be covered as people yelling is). They gave control of the debate and allowed the distortion of facts to the opposition and now it has been bogged down into an anything goes spectacle.

That brings up another thing, the town halls themselves: where were they when we spent trillions bailing out private corporations (who then awarded multi-million dollar bonuses)? I would’ve much rather seen the anger and yelling then. It would’ve been probably been a true bipartisan effort as well. It seems that the team that had the smarts and political will to make it through the last two years would be able to find a better way to not give their opponents such a platform to let loose the crazed bands that have shown up at these meetings. Yes, it’s a democracy and the people should be involved. But, their involvement took place only a few months back in a large election – one would think that the officials they elected, most of whom have been in Congress before, would be able to take care of business without subjecting the larger population to the idiocies of a small, feral minority (as well as ridicule from elsewhere in the world; nations which are befuddled as to why anyone would oppose having health coverage for all their citizens).

This lack of strategic pr and communication thinking has led to a great quagmire in what could have been a hopeful step forward in the US joining the more civic-minded, unselfish, and responsible nations of the world. It’s great to have people in power that can get into the nitty-gritty of legislation but what the then must do is be able to communicate those efforts in a non-bureaucratic way and, if need be, be able to present the message in as simple, beneficial terms as they can in our sound bite-obsessed world. If George Bush could sell us on yellowcake and a trillion dollar invasion, then Obama and his cohorts should be able to piece together a message of bringing cost-effective health care to every citizen of the country.

Maybe if you just attach the word “Freedom” to it, it will pass.


  1. Chris

    Great post Jordan. While I’m skeptical that the President is actually trying to push things like the Public Option – rather than simply sacrifice them to the health insurance industry – it’s certainly true that he wants to pass something called health care reform. But as you say, he hasn’t at all sold it.

    Maybe it’s time to go back and rebrand it health care “hope and change” or something.

  2. Jordan

    Freedomcare. It’s wonderful to see where the anti-intellectual streak in the US has gotten us.

  3. Diane DP

    Perhaps it is not so much a lack of good PR as it is the lies and deceit by republicans to demolish Health Care Reform.
    I suppose we should be accustomed to the nasty, devious ways of republicans.
    But honestly, did anyone expect that sarah palin, using a writer would come up with death panels?
    Or fox news, with their death book?
    What part of ‘Option’ don’t people understand.
    Or the republican thugs at down hall meetings? Screaming about Socialism, yet wanting their Social Security and Medciare?
    I don’t know how you prepare for “stupid”.
    What has to change is the MSM coverage of the “stupid” factor. They are such a small portion of Americans, yet get such coverage.
    They have had their time.
    Let truth of Health Care reform and what it entails facts, not lies, be reported not by those in the MSM that are not cowered by right wing conservatives.