Marketers need to turn up the volume on the ACA debate

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We can't easily influence or apply new rules, but we can work with our client partners throughout the healthcare ecosystem to help shape the dialogue, writes the managing director of Gyro:human.

Much like healthcare patients, marketers are extremely focused on what the new administration will do when it comes to our healthcare system.

As we follow every rumor, post and tweet from the executive and legislative branches of the government, we try and understand intent, scope and timing. All the while, it’s becoming clear that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is proving far more durable and popular than its opponents anticipated. That’s what many members of Congress are learning right now, as recess sends them home to their districts where they’re facing hostile town halls; some are canceling their own to avoid confrontation.

As professionals in marketing and communication (not policy), we can’t easily influence or apply new rules. But there are things we can do. Working with our client partners throughout the healthcare ecosystem, we can help shape the dialogue around the ACA. We can facilitate discussion and thought leadership with stakeholders from the many parts of the healthcare economy. The volatility that we’re about to experience could have a destabilizing effect on all healthcare constituencies, which is directly at odds with what business seeks—stability, predictability and control.

The payer community (health insurers) are in a particularly important and potentially high-risk/high-reward situation. Since they provide the fuel that powers the entire healthcare economy, their customers—whether businesses or consumers—will look to them for information, reassurance and answers. Those brands that accept that mantle of responsibility will be the winners.

Healthcare providers are in similar straits. The largest US healthcare systems—ecosystems in themselves, containing dozens and dozens of hospitals in each system—similarly have an obligation to step up, inform, reassure and advocate on behalf of their own constituents and stakeholders. How, and whether, they choose to engage and communicate can make an enormous difference in how their customers make decisions. Healthcare professionals, in unprecedented demand, can factor into their employment decisions, which systems best communicate and advocate for them and their patients.

Pharma will need to do more in the face of rising alarm and outcry about pricing than run campaigns explaining the high cost of R&D. They need to demonstrate an understanding of the drug-price anger in the country, and find better ways to work with providers and patients to avoid the controversies we saw with Epi-pen, and are now seeing with the attempt by Marathon Pharmaceuticals to increase the price of its muscular dystrophy therapy by 70-fold. It’s happening with Naxalone too, at the very moment that the opioid antidote is cresting. 

The pharma companies, traditionally more comfortable with the house-of-brands approach, may want to consider or reconsider corporate branding. A well-conceived corporate brand with a meaningful and credible purpose can start to build trust and dialogue between the company and its constituents, needed now more than ever. Medical device marketers who are selling into hospital systems need an approach that recognizes the increasingly acute price-sensitivity among their buying groups.

Healthcare data and healthcare tech providers similarly have opportunities to position their products and services in a way that recognizes this peculiar zeitgeist. Their marketing needs to embrace true customer-centricity, real value and benefits, and the all-important qualities of nimbleness and agility in an uncertain environment.

The power of the brands we represent is authority—they have the standing to have a point-of-view about the current environment and potential changes. In an environment of swirling (and terrifying) uncertainty, brands can stand for clarity, trusted information, an understanding of what the audiences worry about, as well as a potential way forward.

We work in healthcare by choice. The choice we made is to work in an industry that matters, that changes lives, that promises (and often delivers) hope. It’s a privilege to work with clients and categories that really matter, both at the macro-economic level and on the micro-individual level. And with this privilege comes the responsibility to use the power of the healthcare brands, and the craft of marketing and communication, to help navigate this historically uncertain environment.

—Wendy Lurrie is the managing director of Gyro:human.