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HMO-bashing Coming from Unusual Quarter - HMOs

Ads are cropping up around the country that remind people why they hate HMOs: doctors with their hands tied, bean counters making medical decisions, patients having difficulty seeing a specialist.

But the ads are not the product of fed-up doctors or some outside critic. They're produced by HMOs themselves - trying to appeal to an increasingly hostile public. The strategy is to tackle consumer fears head-on by explaining how the advertising HMO differs from others.

"It's a diagnosis, not a business decision," proclaim advertisements for the George Washington University Health Plan in Washington that feature doctors examining a little boy or examining an X-ray. In smaller print, they say, "We don't put unreasonable restrictions on our doctors. We don't tell them they can't send you to a specialist."

In Chicago, HMO Illinois ads promised, "We want to be your health plan, not your doctor."

And in Baltimore, the Preferred Health Network explained, "At your average health plan, cost controls are regulated by administrators...At PHN, doctors are responsible for controlling costs."

This approach isn't surprising given the bad publicity managed care has seen in recent years, said Donald E. L. Johnson, editor of Health Care Advertising Review. ...In this atmosphere, how can an HMO sell itself?

"We like to start with the point of reality for consumers," said Tracy Carlson of KSK Communications, the advertising firm that produced the George Washington campaign. "Basically, people hate managed care."

(excerpted from AP, Feb 18, 1998, by Laura Meckler)

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This page was posted June 1, 1998