The PRV 2013 Final Grade: And the “F” Goes to…

Healthcare Exchanges The PRV 2013 Final Grade: And the F Goes to...THE PR VERDICT’S “F” (FULL FIASCO) grade goes to HealthCare.gov, the website hub for US citizens to sign up for government-supplied health insurance. A long hoped-for dream of affordable healthcare for Americans, and what Barack Obama surely thought would be his presidential legacy, has turned into what is generally described as a nightmare.

Getting the Affordable Health Care Act bill passed seemed the hard part. The next step was constructing a website that would be easy to navigate and able to handle an onslaught of Americans in need of insurance. But surely this would be a cinch for Microsoft or Apple or any of America’s tech giants. Maybe, if they’d gotten the contract, or even been consulted.

From the start, HealthCare.gov was a disaster. The site bounced users off, refused to save their data, or was impossible to log onto. Worse, the few who did manage to get on and didn’t want to change their plans suddenly found themselves without insurance. The President’s angry promises to get the site fixed were empty next to facts emerging from a commission (yes, things went that bad). Not enough testing, wrong mainframe, blah tech excuse blah. Only this week has Microsoft been called in, but help arrived too late to save this story.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Under-promise and over-deliver. It’s easy to see why President Obama would have wanted to offer affordable healthcare as soon as possible. Now, in hindsight, it’s easy to see why he should have waited. The achievement is one thing, implementation an entirely different animal. Whether looking at a presidential legacy or a small business breaking sales expectations with a big account, plan. Factor in worst-case scenarios. Hire the best consultants. When the back-slapping over a major win is done, take a hard look at what’s ahead to see that your promise doesn’t become an error fail.

Health Exchange Site Needs Intensive Care

Healthcare Exchanges Health Exchange Site Needs Intensive Care

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Healthcare.gov’s rocky rollout.

Among the great gifts US Congressional Republicans gave to President Obama in their 16-day quixotic government shutdown was deep cover for the abysmal rollout of Healthcare.gov, the website where uninsured Americans can (and must) sign up for health insurance. The federal government site is the go-to for the 6-in-10 uninsured consumers who live in states that, for political reasons, refused to set up their own healthcare exchanges.

Regardless of where one stands on Obamacare, the rollout has been a slow-motion disaster plagued by technical glitches, politics, restrictive government contracting requirements – there’s a long list. And now that  the foundering ship of state has been righted and set back on course, attention is shifting to the implementation problems, and criticism is crossing party lines.

In remarks Monday, Obama hit the “no excuse” soundtrack for the technical problems and vowed a quick and substantive fix, but repairs could take weeks. The administration has highlighted the volume of site traffic (overwhelming) and successful registrations (respectable) but is still playing off its back foot amid rising calls for someone’s head – perhaps even that of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sibelius. A quick fix is mandatory.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) to the Obama administration, for not responding fast or loud enough to address Obamacare’s web-based woes.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Own the conversation on your product or service. Admirers of the nimble, shoot-and-move communications strategy of Obama’s presidential campaigns surely wish the same could be seen in how his administration has addressed the healthcare rollout glitches. Obama & Co. need to redirect the conversation. They’ve taken the first step with Obama’s “mad as hell” mea culpa. Now it’s time to find and promote successes, get ahead of the critics, provide a date for when things will be fixed – and prepare for someone to take the fall.  

 

The Obamacare Show Must Go On

 The Obamacare Show Must Go On

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the launch the Affordable Care Act.

On Tuesday, the Affordable Care Act – the long-awaited and controversial US health care program also known as “Obamacare” – launched amid a US government shutdown and a host of technical glitches. A bungling of presidential proportions? Not necessarily.

The federally-mandated marketplaces that are the cornerstone of the new US health system opened for business on October 1. That’s the same day a Congressionally-led shutdown, sparked by the program’s opponents, closed iconic American memorials and national parks and furloughed more than 800,000 workers. As if that weren’t inauspicious enough, millions of Americans were met with error messages when they tried to check out their state’s exchanges, many of which are managed by the federal government through its healthcare.gov portal.

But these factors didn’t cast a PR pall over the program – at least not initially. The fact that the health care exchanges opened on time, despite a government shutdown, was a PR coup. It also seemed to elevate the program above the Congressional bickering that has come off as childish and impotent. As for the technical problems, they’re being met with a shrug. These days, inability to immediately access the latest technology platform has become almost de rigueur; opening-day delays imply overwhelming demand. For Obamacare, there will be a short grace period for the program to get its act together and start signing people up. After that, though, all bets are off.

THE PR VERDICT:  “C” (Distinctly OK) for the launch of the Affordable Care Act, debuting in a timely manner and piquing the interest of millions of Americans.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: The show must go on. Having come this far, President Obama would have invited a PR disaster had he given in to demands to delay the launch of the health insurance exchanges. If the product is useful, intriguing, or novel enough, consumers are willing to endure a few headaches at the outset. All that said, the countdown has begun: Obamacare needs happy customers, and soon, if its going to establish itself as the viable solution to America’s health care woes.