US Health & Human Services Secretary Resigns

 US Health & Human Services Secretary Resigns

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) for the Affordable Care Act. (Pictured: President Obama, former US Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius)

After a mortifying rollout, the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, is finally in place. Over 7 million Americans have signed up, a number higher than the original goal, and President Obama’s legacy – healthcare for all – seems underway. The act narrowly survived constant attack by Republicans, not to mention its own faulty website. However, one casualty that no amount of healthcare could fix was the reputation of US Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and its effect on the ACA.

Obamacare was under Sebelius’s watch, and she largely took the fall, rightly or not, willingly or not, for the severely flawed rollout. It was Sebelius, facing an angry mob of senators, who had to admit that Healthcare.gov, the ACA website where most Americans were to sign up, had barely been tested before going live. Damage control appearances caused even more damage, especially an uncomfortable appearance on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. All of it was fuel for Republicans determined to repeal the ACA.

Sebelius, a former governor of Kansas who was once a contender for vice president in 2008, was a likely candidate for termination after the ACA rollout fiasco. The question is now whether the falling ax will do further harm to an already tarnished initiative.

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

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Know when to let sleeping dogs lie, especially when they’re vicious. Letting Sebelius go during the worst of the ACA’s rollout would have caused even more turmoil for Obamacare. Her resignation comes on a high note of above-goal enrollment; the best timing for a bad situation. Now Sylvia Mathews Burwell, formerly director of the Office of Management and Budget, suits up against Republicans bent on finding chinks in the armor of the ACA. It’s a tough job; just ask Kathleen Sebelius.

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.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to the makers of “The Power of Adobe Photoshop,” a 37-second video that was made months ago and went viral this week. The time-lapse clip shows a model posing without makeup, then being styled, and then being turned into a creature of literally unreal beauty – or what passes for a normal woman in magazines. The video has been re-blogged and reported on so many times that the original makers are unknown, though after the Today Show report on it, it’s likely they’ll surface soon.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to the continued debacle that is the Obamacare rollout. Today’s one-month anniversary of the national health system’s launch caps a week in which several administration officials were called to the Congressional carpet to account for the problems that continue to plague the the healthcare.gov website. President Obama was also on the defensive over media reports that a vast number of people may lose existing insurance plans on Dec. 31 despite his assurances that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” The PR lesson? If it’s not ready, don’t launch it. The best PR in the world can’t make a half-baked pie taste good.

cornyn The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to US Senate Republicans, for their specious arguments to support blocking President Obama’s nominees to the second-most important US court. Republicans this week charged “court-packing” by the President on three nominees to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. The reference dates to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1937 gambit to neuter a politically antagonistic Supreme Court by adding seats. Promising a filibuster, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas claimed federal poverty: “The last thing we need to do is throw more money on unneeded judges on this court.” Except that these are court vacancies, not new seats – and no one previously fussed over a Republican president’s nominees. “I can’t think of anything more ridiculous,” Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

Obama Administration’s Epic Tech Fails

 Obama Administrations Epic Tech Fails

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Obama administration’s technical advisors. (Pictured: NSA leaker Edward Snowden)

Earlier this week, President Obama had to call French President Francois Hollande and explain, if he could, why the US was spying on the phone records of over 70 million French citizens. The issue was brought to light by former US National Security Administration contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed NSA secrets to several news agencies months ago. Now more than ever, it is imperative that President Obama’s technical administration locate the fugitive tech expert. Not just to save face; they could actually use his help.

Aside from being unable to locate Snowden, a man of Bourne-movie level abilities to erase every trace of his movements, the Obama administration has lost credibility over the technical glitches on Healthcare.gov, the main portal to signing up for mandatory Obamacare. Yesterday, another gaffe: a Twitter feed that has been revealing embarrassing inside information about foreign policy for the past two years was traced back to Jofi Joseph, an official in the White House’s National Security Staff. #howembarrassing.

Americans have grown uncomfortably accustomed to government failures. A lack of regulations allowed the collapse of the economy. Bipartisanship led to a shutdown. Now the website to register for healthcare doesn’t work, prompting the president to record a video encouraging people to sign up “the old fashioned way,” via phone or in person. Presumably, this video was made around the time of the  call to the French president about the tech guy the CIA can’t find, and before the Twitter revelation.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) to the Obama administration’s technical advisors.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: If you want to do your best, surround yourself with the best. America is not exactly short on technical excellence, yet the president’s cabinet signed off on using ten-year-old technology for Healthcare.gov. The military stands by the accuracy of its drones, yet the US can’t find one guy who’s talked to several major international newspapers, or another guy dissing the White House from inside the White House. The PR solution would be obtaining the best and the brightest to fix the glitches and increase security. Maybe Snowden could provide a reference.

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.