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#PRWoes: Obama and His Health Plan, Second Round
By: Gerard E. Mayers
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Last week I blogged about two articles appearing in the Wall Street Journal about Mr. Obama’s eroding approval ratings and his health plan’s woes. At the end of that blog, I noted that, in doing public relations work, often times perceptions of a product are as or more important than the actual facts about a product or brand. A good example of this from history would be the failed campaign in Latin America in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Chevy to sell its Nova automobile in Latin America. In Spanish, Nova can be understood as “No Go.” Who would want to buy a car that might not even work at all?
 
If the power of perception being stronger than actual fact is a common work in PR work, then the Obamacare website woes and furor over cancelled policies portends increasingly bad PR for Team Obama/the Obama Administration. As if to underscore this, a piece written by Michael Boskin appearing earlier this week in the WSJ asked whether Obamacare's troubles are only just beginning.
 
Boskin noted, “The White House is claiming that the Healthcare.gov website is mostly fixed, that the millions of Americans whose health plans were canceled thanks to government rules may be able to keep them for another year, and that in any event these people will get better plans through Obamacare exchanges. Whatever the truth of these assertions, those who expect better days ahead for the Affordable Care Act are in for a rude awakening. The shocks—economic and political—will get much worse next year and beyond."
 
Seems like strong stuff. It gets worse, as Boskin further commented: "More IT failures are likely. People looking for health plans on Obamacare exchanges may be able to fill out their applications with more ease. But the far more complex back-office side of the website—where the information in their application is checked against government databases to determine the premium subsidies and prices they will be charged, and where the applications are forwarded to insurance companies—is still under construction. Be prepared for eligibility, coverage gap, billing, claims, insurer payment and patient information-protection debacles. The next shock will come when the scores of millions outside the individual market—people who are covered by employers, in union plans, or on Medicare and Medicaid—experience the downsides of Obamacare. There will be longer waits for hospital visits, doctors' appointments and specialist treatment, as more people crowd fewer providers."

At the end of his piece, Mr Boskin made this note: “The Affordable Care Act's disastrous debut sent the president's approval ratings into a tailspin and congressional Democrats in competitive districts fleeing for cover. If the law's continuing unpopularity enables Republicans to regain the Senate in 2014, the president will be forced to veto repeated attempts to repeal the law or to negotiate major changes. The risk of a complete repeal if a Republican takes the White House in 2016 will put enormous pressure on Democratic candidates—and on Republicans—to articulate a compelling alternative to the cost and coverage problems that beset health care. A good start would be sliding-scale subsidies to help people buy a low-cost catastrophic plan, purchasable across state lines, equalized tax treatment of those buying insurance on their own with those on employer plans, and expanded high-risk pools.”

Next year is going to be a very interesting one on many fronts; flacks such as ourselves should be prepared and ready to act as crisis communicators — if we are indeed called upon to do so.


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About the Author
Gerard E. "Gerry" Mayers writes about PR and other relevant topics for PR professionals. A former PR manager for Sensor Products, Inc. (currently based in Madison, NJ), he lives in Milford, NJ.
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