Readying for “Repeal & Replace” in Healthcare Communications

Recent moves from the Trump Administration underscore the importance and volatility of the ACA debate for healthcare leaders and consumers alike. What’s less clear are the potential scenarios for “repeal and replace,” and how and when they might become reality. To help your team stay prepared, we put together the below infographic that visually captures a few possible paths the president and Congress might take—and a few they likely won’t.

Whatever the outcome, good communications strategy will help ease the transition for patients, providers and insurers. At Bottom Line, healthcare’s our business. We helped systems navigate the widespread communications needs when the ACA first passed, including advice on:

  • Making information visual and easy to understand for healthcare consumers
  • Personalizing the impact by using avatar stories to share examples for various consumer ages and audiences
  • Proactively gathering common questions and resources to share with consumers

Now, we stand ready to help communicate whatever the next wave of changes brings.

ACA Repeal & Replace

Marketing Guru Meet Public Policy Geek

Here at Bottom Line, we recently had the opportunity to be a part of the 2016 Annual meeting of the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD) in Chicago and the Wisconsin Public Relations and Marketing Society’s (WHPRMS) 2016 annual meeting in Madison, WI.

Nicole Singer, our director of client services, facilitated a luncheon round table discussion of strategic planning at SHSMD, and I presented a session on the intersection of healthcare public policy and marketing at WHPRMS. The similarities in the responses at both were striking.

As Nicole guided the round table discussion, she asked how many of the participants were aware of MACRA (Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015) and recent changes in HOPD (hospital outpatient department) reimbursements. Half had never heard of these policy issues, and the other half said they had heard about it, but did know much. I did the same in Madison, and only one person said he was aware. How about you? Do you know what MACRA is and how it affects your hospital?

The responses underscored the points we made in our WHPRMS presentation: WHPRMS Policy Geek Meets Marketing Maven. Think about it. Marketing tends to focus on consumers and purchasers. The public affairs people tend to focus on politicians and policymakers. Yet they talk to and influence one another. Public concerns and unrest create pressure for Congress to act, while politicians often use strident language that defines “reform” as “death panels” or an “end to Medicare as we know it.”

In our Madison presentation, we covered how to protect and enhance your brand by creating stronger links between your marketing communications and public affairs strategies, and how to strategically connect with public officials around key emerging issues. We also talked with participants about how to translate complex concepts about healthcare reform, reimbursement, quality and transparency into useful and meaningful messages that resonate with clinicians, employees, public officials, and most importantly, patients.

Looking forward, federal healthcare policies include shifting to new payment models, including bundling payments for related services. Federal savings would occur only if providers were paid less in total than under current law, either because they would be delivering fewer and less complex services or because they would be receiving less money per service. Making larger structural changes to health care programs could help the federal budget, but would have a range of effects on providers and beneficiaries. Will this  potential conflict creates a downstream conflict between providers and patients?

As the “repeal and replace” debate plays out over the next several months, healthcare customers are likely to become more aware of the challenges the system is facing, and feel some of the ultimate burdens of the policy changes. How you communicate could be the difference between these two divergent perceptions:

  • The health system is driving us broke – and my doctor and hospital are part of the problem.
  • My doctor and hospital are part of the solution to a broken system.

Which perception are you likely to create with your hospital’s marketing and public policy efforts?

- Jeffrey Remsik, Bottom Line president and CEO

Client Spotlight: ThedaCare

Every once in a while we like to give a shout out to one of our clients and showcase our good work together. This month, we’re featuring ThedaCare, a longtime client who’s partnered with us on everything from strategic communications to competitive intelligence to government relations to publications – and more. Here’s a peek into the scope of our work, and depth of our connections at this seven hospital, 35 clinic health system.


Strategic Communications

When change is afoot, as it often is in the world of health care, ThedaCare has relied on our strategic consultation, careful planning and expert writing skills to help develop communication plans, draft messages and roll out tactics from relationship marketing meetings, internal- and external-facing materials, events, media coordination and more. Using simple and clear language in our messages and creative visuals, we’ve crafted campaigns that share quality care data, the complexities of the Affordable Care Act, opportunities for new physicians, insights for government officials and significant organizational change.

Competitive Intelligence

In the world of health care, understanding your competition is essential. Sometimes that understanding yields a business partnership opportunity, and sometimes, it prompts a competitive business strategy. As part of the ThedaCare annual strategic planning process, we’ve compiled profiles of all kinds of organizations to help ThedaCare understand market changes and their implications in the 14 counties the organization serves – and beyond. Our research has included everything from national chain pharmacies and drug stores that are moving into care delivery to workplace wellness expansion to other healthcare systems and providers.

Government Relations

As part of the ThedaCare GR team, we support identification and strategic response around various government policies and regulations that present opportunities or risk to any and every part of the organization. We focus on state-level matters, and collaborate with our federal-level team members to develop strategies that influence policymakers on behalf of ThedaCare.


TC Magazine Portfolio Image

With years of experience in managing the ThedaCare employee newsletter and the ThedaCare community magazine, we’ve not only told the ThedaCare story in many vibrant ways, we’ve also learned the organization from the inside out. Relationships delight us and define how we work, so it’s no surprise we appreciate every person we interview, everyone who submits content and every soul who shares the heartfelt significance of participating in the ThedaCare mission of improving the health of the communities the organization serves.

Our Sweet Spot

We excel at behind-the-scenes consultation, research and marketing communications support that reaches the more than 240,000 patients ThedaCare serves annually, the organization’s many partners, public officials, stakeholders and community members.

As ThedaCare continues to lead in implementing the health care of the future, we’re excited to walk alongside their team of passionate experts. Strategically supporting this special client, and helping execute around key initiatives and projects is a centerpiece of our work in health care. That kind of support isn’t limited to ThedaCare, though. It’s simply one great example of how we do business, all day, every day.

Digital vs. Face-to-face Networking

The digital business world certainly has its benefits. It’s quick, convenient and highly accessible. It’s where trends are happening. Online networking is one of those trends. While it’s not trendy, face-to-face networking is here to stay. The key then is to integrate online and offline. This can translate into a more strategic approach and help you make the most of the time you dedicate to real world networking.

We are humans. We are hard-wired as social beings. The trust and momentum behind a strong business relationship, just like any relationship, springs from a real, physical presence — and that’s something not even the most dynamic online conversation can provide. Online networking tools are an excellent way to organize and augment your face-to-face networking.

So what are the benefits of networking in person?

  • Recognition. Face-to-face networking creates a memorable, personal impressions (hopefully positive) that you can follow-up on later. It puts a face with the name. Your network can see the real actions and values you embody, more than the professional content you share online.
  • Resources. By taking a genuine interest in others, you position yourself as a valuable resource to help someone get their job done, solve their problem or connect with someone else who can help
  • Inspiration. People tend to say different things in person than they do online. We talk differently than we write. In dialogue, we unearth background information that’s important to making smart business decisions, such as whom to work with on a new project, or how to better understand your competitors
  • Problem Solving. According to a survey of 850 business leaders by the Economist Intelligence Unit, more efficient problem-solving is the number one motivation for face-to-face interaction. Personal discussion can lead to faster, more productive solutions.

The future of great networking likely involves the perfect mix of face-to-face and digital, where each makes the other stronger, and none are dismissed as irrelevant and outdated. It’s like everything else in life — balance is key.

How have your business and networking efforts evolved over the last few years. Are you just using the Internet, or are you more in the world of face-to-face? What’s bringing you the most results? And what do you do to strike a balance?

How to Make Friends and Influence Public Policy

Relationships are the heartbeat of influence. Want to get your neighbors to agree to trim or take down a diseased tree that threatens to topple into your yard? Barbecue with them first. Want to encourage a family member toward healthier eating? Stop lecturing, start listening and work together to make dietary and exercise changes. Want to effect a change to public policy? Engage with the right people, educate them and build a connection over time.

Many businesses work through industry or professional associations and networks to influence public policy. That’s great. Those kinds of affiliations are essential for navigating complex policy matters, as well as creating the critical mass often needed for effective advocacy.

When a business or nonprofit organization has a personal relationship with a policymaker, however, they have a valuable asset unto themselves – and they also become an asset for the public official.

Several of our healthcare clients have cultivated relationships with state and federal policymakers who represent the communities they all serve. Through periodic coffee meetings with C-suite leaders, personal notes from the CEO and attendance at events by a variety of leaders representing key areas of the organization, our clients have planted and watered the seeds of relationship.

It’s been personally and professionally rewarding. Not only do these leaders enjoy their encounters, they gain deeper insight and can offer their own perspective on issues. They have opportunity to educate as well, often providing new information that better positions a policymaker to advance a more helpful or advantageous idea.

Further, as a result of these relationships, policymakers have reached out to our clients for support. They have a friend who can speak into legislation as it is developed, and support it at key junctures along the way – like including providing testimony and endorsement letters.

For the most authentic, savvy and strategic organizations, making friends and influencing public policy go hand in hand – and can result in positive, effective change. It’s the best of both worlds.  

PR and Politics Rooted in History

In the warm afterglow of the GOP Presidential debates last night here in Milwaukee, I was reminded of the long and close connection between politics and public relations, my chosen profession after several years in politics.

Public relations and politics have been two firmly entwined concepts since the beginning of recorded history. Consider Aristotle and his schools of rhetoric that taught the art of persuasive communication. Consider the pamphlet written in 64 B.C. on how to wage and win an election.

Public relations plays a role in politics and government policy by influencing public opinion to support or oppose a certain candidate, piece of legislation or a cause.

How PR Plays ‘Politics’

PR plays a great role in politics by contributing directly to three main objectives:

  • Increase Awareness Among Targeted Audiences. The PR publicity is a great tool to gain awareness for a candidate and/or cause. Whether through mass media exposure, special events or targeted direct communication, making candidates’ names known to voters is a basic function of public relations. Candidates can’t win if voters don’t know their names.
  • Educate Targeted Audiences.  Providing voters with enough information to develop an understanding of candidates’ position is another public relations strategy closely tied to politics. Knowing who’s running is important, but once they have an awareness of who’s in the contest, understanding where each candidate stands on the issues becomes a priority.
  • Prompt Target Audiences to Think, Feel Say and Do Something. With modern-day public relations, another dimension comes into play, one that moves public relations beyond publicity and the use of one-way messages and toward two-way communication. At the highest level, this two-way approach allows for both persuasion of the public and modification of the politician with an eye to bringing both to that most valuable of outcomes: mutually beneficial relationships.

Three Key Developments

Since the mid-90′s, the dominance of mass communications has been sapped by three interrelated developments. The introduction of the permanent campaign which has blurred the difference between campaigning and governing so that politicians seek to dominate the agenda every single day. There also has been an increase of public relations and marketing professionals transferring their skills to the political arena and vice versa. The growing importance of new communications technologies, like the Internet and other new media, has encouraged political actors to use a much wider range of public relations tools. Political communicators don’t rely on one dominant channel to reach their target audiences, nor does public relations.

In short, public relations and politics are all about:

  • Media management (controlling messages)
  • Image management (protecting an identity or brand, relationship building, etc.)
  • Internal communication (engaging people within the party and controlling opinionated messages)
  • Information management (gate-keeping)

How political are you?

- Jeffrey Remsik, president and CEO