Re: alpolitik | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Re: alpolitik

How does the UPMC/Highmark battle look from the inside? This memo, discovered by Chris Potter*, gives us a clue

To: Jeffrey Romoff
From: Public Affairs

Re: Status of our messaging efforts w/r/t Highmark transition

There is much to tell you, O Great One. To begin with, hiring former KDKA anchor Patrice King Brown to produce our commercials was an inspired move. It was most fortunate that Ms. Brown, who spent decades becoming a trusted name, was willing to rent it out to us months after retiring.  

Her ads are proving especially popular with elderly Medicare recipients, whom we have begun targeting. We are assuring them that, because Medicare is a federal program with its own protections, their coverage will not change once we leave Highmark's network. 

This is a vital campaign, because our early efforts -- like launching the website -- were designed to instill widespread fear that patients could lose network access to their physicians. But we are now in a sensitive phase, with state officials discussing whether to intervene in our battle with Highmark. That must not happen. So while we must frighten corporate HR directors enough to switch insurers, we must keep the elderly calm. We certainly wouldn't want them panicking and doing anything rash, like calling their elected officials! 

In fact, there was talk of expanding our outreach to the elderly, using our life-changing medicine™ to clone KDKA's broadcasting legend, the late Bill Burns. Sadly, our geneticists report difficulty obtaining the necessary DNA sample: Ever since Ms. Brown's ads went on the air, it seems, Burns has been spinning in his grave. 

But your own public performances have been masterful, Great One. In appearances before elected officials, you continue to point out that your brilliant strategy has been unanimously endorsed by UPMC's board of trustees. Truly, what higher authority is there? Meanwhile, you have distilled your strong, unwavering message perfectly: "All we want to do," you recently told state legislators, "is to continue to do what we want to do." 

Some will denounce that as the rationale of a bully, or an 8-year-old. But history shows that Pittsburghers yearn for a strong hand to lead them. This has always been a company town, accustomed to taking orders from one or two big employers. And there are few brave enough to contest you openly. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was recently compelled to acknowledge, "Few of Pittsburgh's business leaders have weighed in publicly on the standoff" for fear of "provok[ing] one of the region's most powerful companies." 

We confess that there are some misgivings about this strategy. Does it make sense, some ask, for a nonprofit like ours to talk about market share and the virtues of competition? Can we object to Highmark's acquisition of Allegheny General and its health system … when we launched an insurance plan to compete with Highmark years ago? 

But the fact remains: Our strategy is working. 

Yes, when church leaders complained about our strategy in October, the Post-Gazette published letters from clergy urging you "to remember the people whom you serve are not stockholders. They are families whose medical condition makes them vulnerable to exploitation." But at the same time, the paper noted, hundreds of clergy were switching to our health plan -- "because UPMC has said it won't give network rates to those with Highmark insurance." 

Even the Allegheny County Medical Society, which has warned that parting ways with Highmark would be a disaster for doctors and patients, now says, "UPMC and Highmark should formalize an orderly transition plan." This is, of course, exactly our position! 

Time is on our side, Great One. Every day Harrisburg dithers, our position becomes stronger. Let priests and physicians whine: Their own actions prove the genius of our approach!

 And if some of our arguments make little sense, what of it? For years we've conditioned Pittsburghers to accept nonsensical statements. Long ago we blanketed airwaves with claims that any rational person would laugh at. "This is not a hospital," we would insist, even as we showed footage of one. "It's a song to the possibilities that live within us all." 

Utter nonsense, yes. But the goal wasn't to offer rational proof that UPMC is a great health-care system. The goal was to stop people from thinking rationally about UPMC at all. We wanted them to see UPMC as we, your humble vassals, see you, Dear Leader: as our benefactor, the font from which all goodness and wisdom flows.  

Inspired by that PR genius George Orwell, we've sought to blur the lines between fact and fiction. Years ago, in our "UPMC Minute" campaign, we made our commercials look like news broadcasts. Now we have newscasters producing our commercials.

Soon these efforts will come to their ultimate fruition. For now -- while Highmark is our enemy -- our message must be, "Monopolies bad, competition good." But we have a new message already crafted, to roll out when Highmark and Allegheny General are defeated: 

 "Competition good, monopolies better." 





* And by "discovered" we mean "invented"

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