Lovelace v ABQHP


Members of the Lovelace Health Insurance plan and patients of ABQ Health Partners are in a bind.  The once symbiotic relationship is, at best, like a ship on the rocks.  At worst, it is headed into the black hole of healthcare.

The mad scramble for public opinion started on October 9, 2012, the day failed contract discussions were made public.

After the initial foray of media coverage, the mailings started.  First, ABQ Health Partners with their side of the story.  Several days later, the Lovelace mailers followed.  Then, the New Mexico Superintendent intervened to ensure those who were caught in the middle were not left out in the cold because of quick timelines.  Recently, court action has erupted as a next phase as the first of what could be several lawsuits and countersuits are filed.

With the direct mail war getting into a pattern, both sides turned to buying full-page, full color ads in the Sunday ABQ Journal to clarify their position and their version of the truth.  Based on the imagery and language of the full-page ads, both sides are courting the older healthcare users (50 years of age and older).

Who is going to win this healthcare battle?  Based on insight from the Garrity Perception Survey, you might be surprised.

The 2011 and 2012 survey measured opinions of  New Mexico residents on favorable industries and trusted professions.  Specific to this issue, favorability of the medical system and trust of doctors was measured.

Complete trust in doctors surpasses very favorable perceptions of the medical system (25 percent to 20 percent).  However, specific to the senior audience, there is a higher favorability of the medical system than there is trust in doctors.

Older New Mexico residents have a 36 percent higher favorability rating of the medical system than complete trust in their physician.  This is surprising at best and could spell trouble for ABQ Health Partners as they move forward with the “keep your doctor” message.

For younger (and often times healthier) residents, there is a higher level of trust in doctors than favorability of the medical system (based on ABQ HP messaging, this is their desired audience).

Older residents (typically heavier users of the healthcare system) get their primary news and information through the newspaper.  Lovelace has had better success in the newspaper advertising campaigns.

New media is preferred as a primary news and information source for younger decision makers.  Neither group has fared well in this realm.

Twitter would have been the preferred first strike tool for either entity.  The target audience, in this case, would be the sometimes news-starved local media that monitor Twitter for story ideas.  Leveraging the social network to get their key messages in the social space on October 9th would have been a smart move. However, both were slow to act:

- Lovelace engaged its 73 @LovelaceHealth Twitter followers on October 17. As of October 21 the entity has engaged only 15 times on this issue.
- ABQ Health Partners engaged its 226 @ABQHP Twitter followers on October 16.  As of October 21, the entity has engaged only four times on this issue.

Facebook is a good way to reinforce messages and build support among your “fans”.  The overall Facebook audience is trending older each year, but remains the best tool to reach a broad base of existing and potential supporters.
- Lovelace Health System engaged its 469 fans with 18 posts since October 15.  The site   directs users to its website, news stories and YouTube testimonials from Lovelace members.
- ABQHealthPartners engaged its 92 fans with 17 posts since October 15.  The site directs visitors to its website and news stories.

While both entities missed opportunities to frame their information in the social realm, they are bolstering their website efforts in different ways:
- Lovelace is choosing to discuss the issue as a part of their main website
- ABQ Health Partners is taking a different tact by creating a vanity site

In addition to the target audiences and tools mentioned here there are also physician communication and patient communications that haven’t been referenced.  Both entities seem to have that arena covered.

Both organizations have seasoned public relation professionals, neither were consulted for this blog post.  Giving these professionals more control over the messaging (less marketing and less legal) will better serve the organizations and their members.

By means of disclosure, when this dispute became public I was one of those caught in the middle, as a Lovelace Health Plan member with an ABQ Health Partners primary care physician.  Several years ago, my firm helped ABQ Health Partners to establish its brand and awareness in the community.  That contract ended two years ago.

Tom Garrity