In a media environment increasingly hostile to managed care, Kaiser Permanente Southern California has found an ideal advertising message: Kaiser is not like other HMOs.
The advertising campaign is not new; it was begun last November. But it has gained power as consumer media coverage of HMOs has grown more critical.
"Coincidentally, with all the negative HMO copy, we just happened to hit an issue that's a very hot topic," said JoEllyn Savage, director of member and marketing communications for Kaiser in Southern California.
A recent full-page Kaiser ad in the Los Angeles Times says, "We don't have insurance administrators who will tell your physician how to treat you." And in a reference to the controversy over capitation, the ad says, "What's more, there are no financial pressures to prevent him or her from giving you the medical care you need."
The ad is part of a yearlong newspaper campaign developed by Kaiser's internal ad agency. Kaiser's television ad campaign focuses on similar themes. Savage declined to provide information on how much Kaiser is spending.
Not-for-profit Kaiser, the nation's oldest HMO, has been pointing out for some time that it is different. Kaiser's health plan and hospitals contract exclusively with Kaiser Permanente physicians, who control medical decisions.
Individual Kaiser physicians aren't capitated-paid on a per-member, per-month basis-and share in a relatively modest bonus if their group reaches certain goals, only one of which is cost control.
"It's not new in the HMO business to talk about quality vs. cost control, but the fact that it has hit the consumer press with the vehemence it has recently is new and has a broader impact," Savage said. "It's a very unfortunate thing for our competitors that they fall into categories that are hot buttons for the press."
Kaiser hasn't decided how much emphasis to put on those hot buttons in its advertising, Savage said. "It won't be our primary message, though we certainly won't shy away from it."
Kaiser wants its advertising to "take a long view of things" and educate people about managed care, rather than be reactive to issues, she said.
Said Kaiser spokesman Ron Treleven: "It's becoming increasingly clear the media is focusing on areas where in many instances we are very different. It's important to point out these differences so people realize they have a choice."