As last week's elections painfully proved, support from special-interest groups may be more pivotal to the outcome than grass-roots campaigning. While the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and other healthcare groups have done their part to pump up political allies, individual healthcare organizations also should look at ways to become more influential in politics and public opinion.
When the new Congress convenes in January, it is likely to push patient protection and other incremental healthcare reforms to the top of the legislative agenda. That means another onslaught of gut-wrenching managed-care horror stories designed to show the profits-before-people mentality of health plans.
As we have come to realize, many critics lump hospitals and health systems into the same category as the greedy, uncaring HMOs. That's why providers need to offer frequent reminders that they are more than faceless, impersonal institutions.
Aetna and its Aetna U.S. Healthcare division tried just that in a recent advertising campaign that appeared in 20 major newspapers the day before the Nov. 3 elections. More than 8.000 of Aetna's 33,000 employees signed a petition calling for "truth in debating" managed care under a headline reading: It seems HMO bashing has become a national pastime.
The message is that HMO employees are people, not mindless bureaucrats, and they feel victimized by unjustified and uninformed attacks on managed care. The ads also cite Aetna U.S. Healthcare's achievements in the past year, including the payout of "more than $23 billion to meet our members' healthcare needs."
Finally, the undersigned pledged that they "will stand by those who support our effort to help our members." That kind of commitment from those who work in healthcare could lead to a more rational debate on managed care.