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 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 Cory Booker, the charismatic Democratic mayor of Newark, NJ, who this week became the state’s first African American US senator. True, he was unlikely to lose; New Jersey hasn’t elected a Republican to the Senate in 40 years. Still, the media-savvy 44-year-old ran a carefully calibrated race. Early on, he laid low and campaigned via his Twitter feed and Instagram videos. He artfully handled shrill questions about sexuality and his communications with a West Coast stripper. When opponent Steve Lonegan turned up the heat, Booker came out swinging with an aggressive TV ad (but still spent less than $1 million on television). Booker’s next challenge will be navigating the US Senate where, as The New York Times put it, “show horses tend to stumble.”

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the man behind the ban on large-sized sugary drinks and increasingly limited public smoking areas. While those “nanny state” actions could be called beneficial, this week the mayor directed NYC police to find and arrest the artist known as Banksy, who is currently “defacing” the buildings of Bloomie’s burg. Banksy’s art routinely sells for millions, and other cities have treated his graffiti-style work as valuable contributions. Nevertheless, in a town that has recently suffered a spate of violent attacks on gay men, cops are being ordered by Hizzonor to focus on apprehending this hooded painting bandit. That’s a Big Gulp of nerve.

bachmanncruz The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD TO any number of US Congressional Republicans, for statements during the 16-day government shutdown crisis that gave “spin” a bad name, even after the crisis ended. When it did, the meekly even-handed media coverage broke decidedly against the Republicans, but that didn’t end their attempts to save face and subvert reality. Thus we have statements like House Speaker John Boehner’s “We fought the good fight, we just didn’t win,” Sen. Ted Cruz’s “Washington is not listening to the people,” and Rep. Michele Bachmann’s “This was a fight worth having.” After setting out on an obviously dead-ending path, they followed to its natural conclusion and somehow kept going, perhaps walking their party right into the political wilderness.

Senate Wonder Women Save the Nation

 Senate Wonder Women Save the Nation

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to the sisterhood of the Senate. (From left, Rev. Jim Wallis with Sens. Ayotte, Murkowski, and Collins.)

As hard as it is to give anyone credit in the embarrassing spectacle that is the US government shutdown, a group of female senators including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire), who crafted the framework of a compromise, deserve their day in the sun.

The shutdown entered its third week after Congress failed to pass a spending bill that would restore shuttered government services. Tensions increased as a deadline permitting the US to borrow money to pay its obligations loomed.

As factions within Congress continued wage war, women came to the rescue. Led by  Sen. Collins, a group of six of the Senate’s 20 female senators united to produce a compromise to break the impasse. The agreement served as the foundation of a proposal endorsed by bipartisan leaders in the Senate, prompting their male colleagues to almost begrudgingly acknowledge that the times, they are a’changing. As veteran Sen. John McCain put it, “Leadership, I must fully admit, was provided primarily by the women in the Senate.”

The women could have rejected the notion that their reproductive equipment played a role in the compromise, perhaps even been insulted by the suggestion. Instead, Collins and the other senators embraced their feminine attributes. “I find that, with all due deference to our male colleagues, women’s styles tend to be more collaborative,” she told ABC News. Indeed, Collins and her crew have positioned themselves nicely as a group that gets things done and, potentially, a force to be reckoned with on future issues.

THE PR VERDICT:  “A” (PR Perfect) to the sisterhood of the Senate.

THE PR TAKEAWAY:  Play up your strengths – and keep playing them up. This unusual alliance captured the media’s attention; once the press was focused on them, the senators kept the headlines coming by elaborating on the qualities that helped them achieve their goals. Promoting the attributes of one sex over another is a tricky business, but the senators played their hand nicely. Brava, ladies!

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

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to the International Association to Save Tyre, a charitable organization that came up with a most innovative fundraiser: a raffle to win a Picasso. Sotheby’s Paris will host the drawing, in which one lucky ticket holder will win Picasso’s “Man With Opera Hat,” a cubist illustration valued at $1 million dollars. Tickets are available online, worldwide, for $135/€100. After the publicity the raffle received, it’s a cinch the ceiling of 50,000 available tickets will be met, bringing in a raft of donations and awareness in this artfully crafted fundraiser.

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who committed an uncharacteristic PR misstep this week. Christie told The Record, a NJ newspaper, that a “low-level manager” at NJ Transit was responsible for deciding to move more than 300 trains to a facility that wound up flooding during Hurricane Sandy last year, causing more than $100 million in damage. The governor suggested that the manager went rogue and didn’t properly vet his decision within the transportation agency. The call-out alone would have been bad enough, but it turns out that The Record has emails showing that this poor unfortunate’s decision was, indeed, approved by more than a dozen supervisors, including the agency director. Bad intel and poor form, governor.

kochs The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners & Losers

THE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Charles and David Koch, for denying any role in the anti-Obamacare government shutdown but not disavowing the Republican-led effort. The conservative billionaire brothers, who bankroll numerous right-wing causes, figured prominently in a Sunday New York Times article  that traced how Koch-funded conservative groups and politicians plotted the shutdown strategy to block the Affordable Care Act. On Wednesday, in a blanket letter to US Senators, the Kochs said although they oppose Obamacare, they had “not taken a position” on the shutdown strategy nor lobbied Congress to defund the program. So in other words, they’re not to blame for a shutdown, which they have no opinion on, anyway.

 

 

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Shutdown, Tragedy, Looming Default: Welcome to Washington

 Shutdown, Tragedy, Looming Default: Welcome to Washington

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the United States government.

The fictional town of Sunnydale was the site of the Hellmouth in the popular TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but it’s starting to feel like the true location of the portal to Hades is Washington, DC. Look at the events of the past week alone. First, the government shut down. A few days later, a delusional woman went on an automotive rampage near the Capitol and was shot and killed by Capitol police – who were receiving no pay at the time due to the shutdown. Earlier this week, a man self-immolated on the Washington Mall, motives unknown. And next week, should Congress fail to come to terms, America will hit its debt ceiling and go into default. End times, or what?

The game of high-stakes poker between Congress and President Obama saw much sweat on the Republican side and no blinking from the Oval Office. As of yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner said “I’m not drawing any lines in the sand” about budget issues – a far softer message than was broadcast merely one day ago.

Meanwhile, Congress and the government in general are coming under increasing pressure to get past this problem. Citizens are shouting at their representatives. Petitions to put Congressional paychecks on the same freeze as those of government workers are gaining signatures. And the stock market is flattening as a result of the impending default. How deeply will Washington peer into this abyss?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for the United States government. They would have earned an “F,” but we’re saving that for next week.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Remember who you’re fighting for. While Democrats say they’re trying to give Americans affordable health care, and Republicans are saying Americans don’t want it, both sides are receiving substantial paychecks, unlike some of their constituents. The longer the standoff, the more Americans become united – in their increasing ire at their own elected officials. Seems likely that, come voting time, Congresspeople will have hell to pay.

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.