UnitedHealthcare Gets it Right
by Thayer Fox
On Monday UnitedHealthcare announced it would honor three of healthcare reform’s mandates regardless of what the Supreme Court decides this month. How they handled this communication is a case study in strategic communication and smart messaging.
It’s not simply that they saw a PR opportunity and grabbed it. It’s not just that they curried favor with both the administration and the nation’s healthcare members in one strike. It’s in how they communicated about the mandates they wouldn’t honor that was most impressive.
To some extent, every major carrier in the country has prepared for these mandates and factored them into their operations and budgets. UnitedHealthcare saw an opportunity to celebrate the work they’ve done, and leverage it to showcase how they champion members. This is commendable, because often corporations do not turn operational initiatives into communication assets. They do not always see the opportunity to shine.
UnitedHealthcare did. But that’s not all. In communicating what they would voluntarily honor, they also announced aspects of the reform mandate that they would not honor. Namely, coverage for children with pre-existing conditions.
This is a seriously controversial issue. And how they communicated their decision was masterful. They addressed it head on:
“UnitedHealthcare recognizes the value of coverage for children up to age 19 with pre-existing conditions. One company acting alone cannot take that step, so UnitedHealthcare is committed to working with all other participants in the health care system to sustain that coverage.”
This message works not simply because it’s true. The truth rarely makes a message effective. It’s that it reframes the debate. It pivots the conversation away from United and onto the body politic. With this message, it’s no longer about what United won’t do, but about what all carriers – and the country even – should do to enact this part of healthcare reform. In short, it sparks important debate and puts UnitedHealthcare in the position of moving that debate forward.
The important takeaway is when making a proactive announcement, it’s important to realize that critics will always think what you’re announcing does not go far enough. This is true in any regulated industry from healthcare to energy to financial services, where critics will never think your oversight or environmental initiatives are strong enough. In announcing voluntary compliance you’re often inviting criticism. Prepare for that criticism. And understand how to steer the conversation when it comes. UnitedHealthcare’s approach is a powerful way to do just that.