Universal Coverage, Universal Responsibility
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Holmes Report

Universal Coverage, Universal Responsibility

On December 3, 2002 at the Commonwealth Club of California, Blue Shield of California’s President and CEO Bruce Bodaken unveiled a proposal for extending health coverage to all Californians before an audience of more than 200, a highly unprecedented move by the leader of a major health plan.

Paul Holmes

On December 3, 2002 at the Commonwealth Club of California, Blue Shield of California’s President and CEO Bruce Bodaken unveiled a proposal for extending health coverage to all Californians before an audience of more than 200, a highly unprecedented move by the leader of a major health plan. No longer an issue exclusive to low-income individuals, the span of the uninsured is impacting the well off, and threatens to quickly impact the ranks of the middle-class.
With six million uninsured Californians, a collapsing trauma system, and soaring drug and hospital costs, and in keeping with the health plan’s mission of providing access to quality, affordable health care, Blue Shield felt the time had come for a comprehensive statewide solution to the healthcare crisis. Anticipating that Bruce’s speech would initiate an open discussion on the future possibilities for California’s healthcare delivery system among the media, local legislators and the public, Blue Shield asked FischerHealth to create and implement a strategic media relations campaign to use/maximize that momentum to position Bruce as a visionary health plan CEO leading the discussion on how to solve the crisis of the uninsured.
Challenging the team was the need to proactively counter anticipated skepticism that this initiative is self-serving for Blue Shield and that they just want more members. Another challenge was the fact that in the weeks preceding Bruce’s speech, several legislators with significantly higher profiles also announced their plans on this issue, with the possibility that the media was not in need of hearing from another person. Blue Shield had to rise above the clutter of those who really didn’t have a firm grasp of the issue and what it would take to fix it.
 In developing the media relations campaign, FischerHealth researched past media coverage and found that it was virtually unprecedented for a health plan to speak out on options for relieving the issue of our nation’s uninsured, and in fact Blue Shield was the first health plan in California to propose a solution to the state’s healthcare crisis. Further industry and media research also indicated that there had been in recent months several healthcare advocates in other states who were pushing legislators and governors to consider universal coverage and introducing bills that might never become law.
Further research found industry statistics showing that the number of uninsured Californians continued to rise and that the state’s $20-25 billion budget deficit has imperiled public programs that cover the uninsured. FischerHealth found that the uninsured in California fell into three categories: 30 percent of the uninsured are eligible for public programs but are not enrolled; the second category of the uninsured have annual incomes above 250 percent of the federal poverty level and may be able to afford coverage; and the final group of uninsured can’t afford coverage and doesn’t qualify for public programs.
Moreover, earlier in the year, the Governor postponed the expansion of the Healthy Families program, which insures children of low-income families who don’t qualify for Medi-Cal. Nearly $740 million of federal money that could have been used to insure California’s children was returned to the U.S. Treasury because the state was unable to pay its one-third share of the cost.
Rounding out FischerHealth’s research, was a look at reporter backgrounds and beats to target its outreach and expand outside California. As an agency specializing in healthcare communications, FischerHealth used this research, along with an already strong base of knowledge from which to develop a highly targeted media campaign that would position Blue Shield as a thought leader in the fight against the uninsured crisis. Working closely with Blue Shield’s Public Affairs staff, the team was able to maximize resources to increase visibility and results.
Based on media and industry research as well as FischerHealth’s knowledge of the industry, the team established the following target markets: California and national media, trade media, influential TV and radio talk shows (both regional and national), state legislators, employers, providers, small business groups, and other health plans.
 Recognizing that the speech on its own might not attract wide media attention, the team set out to make this a story and implemented a tiered media strategy that turned a speech before a small audience into a platform to unveil Blue Shield’s proposal to the nation. A media advisory was drafted to generate media attendance at the event, and an invitation was mailed to secure attendance from local political leaders, as well as public policy individuals and organizations. A press release, pitch letter and Op-Ed highlighting points of Bruce’s speech and outlining Blue Shield’s “call-to-action” were also drafted. While media efforts were national in scope, additional emphasis was placed on Blue Shield’s key markets: San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego.
 It was November 2002 when FischerHealth developed a strategic plan for Bruce’s speech and crafted media materials: media advisory, press release and pitch letter. In addition, pitch points were developed to counter possible criticism and to best position Bruce’s and Blue Shield’s intentions as true and honorable. Once the date for the speech was set as December 3, the team engaged in pre-pitching top national dailies and wires (i.e., New York Times, USA Today and Associated Press), local papers (i.e., San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee), and business journals (i.e., San Francisco Business Times and Sacramento Business Journal) to attend the speech at the Commonwealth Club on Dec. 3, 2002.
An embargoed copy of the press release was offered to reporters to generate interest in interviewing Bruce prior to the speech. On the day of the event, a national wire press release was distributed and copies of the speech were offered to reporters who expressed interest in covering the event. Bruce Bodaken participated in a number of on-site and phone interviews before and after his speech.
Simultaneous to the wire release, the team initiated regional, national and trade outreach efforts. Following the speech, the team used Blue Shield’s proposal to continue to position Blue Shield as a leader toward achieving universal coverage for all Californians. As part of the campaign, FischerHealth outreached to the editorial boards at key publications to schedule meetings for Bruce that would result in editorials. As FischerHealth entered 2003, the team has been successful in sustaining momentum for Blue Shield’s proposal and positioning Bruce as a visionary leading the debate on solving the crisis of the uninsured.
Results from this campaign effort were very positive, tracking success against each of FischerHealth’s program objectives.
Media coverage from the firm’s pitch efforts was secured across the nation in leading dailies and business publications and resulted in more than 83 million impressions in a one-month timeframe in 2002.
The firm secured 136 articles and broadcast segments in excess of 83 million media impressions in one month. Arranged interviews for Bruce and other Blue Shield spokespeople with reporters across key national, local, business and trade media. Placements include multiple articles in: New York Times, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Associated Press, Reuters, Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News, Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Business Times, Sacramento Business Journal, Orange County Register, and San Diego Union-Tribune. In addition, secured broadcast placements on NPR-LA “Which Way L.A. with Warren Olney”, KQED-FM (San Francisco) and CBS Marketwatch.
The team received media inquiries and interview requests from major national broadcast shows, including NBC Nightly News and CNBC Closing the Bell.
It also arranged an editorial board meeting for Bruce with the Los Angeles Times, which resulted in an editorial that clearly outlined Blue Shield’s stand on universal coverage. In addition, secured interest for an editorial board meeting with the Sacramento Bee and San Jose Mercury News.
Blue Shield gained a stronger position with the media as demonstrated by the mass amount of continued incoming media calls from reporters requesting copies of the speech and information about Blue Shield’s proposal for universal coverage.
One hundred percent of articles about universal coverage specifically mentioned Blue Shield’s proposal and/or Bruce Bodaken, building the reputation of the company in the industry.
Significant attention was garnered on Bruce’s speech and Blue Shield’s proposed plan, with the team receiving multiple phone calls and e-mails from media, healthcare executives, health plans, public policy organizations and legislators across the nation.
The team received multiple calls from public policy and health care organizations inviting Bruce to speak at one of their sessions, such as Health Care Executives of Southern California, Sacramento Press Club and Health Journalists Association Meeting.
 In addition to media placements, Blue Shield’s president and CEO Bruce Bodaken gained a stronger position with the media, state legislators and other health plans and public policy organizations, and continues to be called on as a leader in the statewide issue of finding a suitable remedy to the issue of the uninsured.
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