Branding in Good Health - Part 1

November 17, 2005

A few months back, I wrote an article about the challenges of consumer-directed healthcare (CDHC). The gist of that piece was that giving responsibility for managing health services and choice to consumers was akin to replaying Reagan’s voodoo economics of the 1980s. No accountability to deliver the goods and little framework for managing the change.

Now, we see and hear this week that seniors are once again feeling the cutting edge of a brittle system going through yet another half-baked, politically expedient execution. This time, it is Medicare Part D – the prescription drug plan. Some of the personal stories reported earlier this week remind me of a saying: "Eschew obfuscation." While the benefits programs may be a step in the right direction, legislators and sponsors have forgotten to build the enrollment bridge and to provide simple directions for seniors.

Annapolis resident Michele Ryan Crofoot, 66, a retired developer told the Washington Post's Christopher Lee (Problems Cited in Medicare Drug Benefit Sign-Up, November 16, 2005) "You read all these things about 'Go to the computer and find these plans, 'I've tried it, and I just get so frustrated. For me, it's slow, but it's hard for me to compare. I don't even know if I'm doing it right... This is driving me crazy."

The American public seems to be asking why is it so difficult for government and industry to put them first? The morass of options and complexity, compounded by the volume of offers flooding the marketplace and the desire among most people to avoid tough choices, is just one more assault on our collective immune system. The shame is – CDHC and Part D are both good ideas, but until our healthcare system is fixed, they are doomed to rattle around like rocks in the wheel well.

Now is the time to speak honestly and simply. If we do not make healthcare choices easy and intuitive for consumers, we will never realize the savings from CDHC and Part D, and the promised benefits will never trickle down.

Next week I'll offer some concrete solutions for change.

- Patrick Ohlin

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