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When It’s Time To Steal From Better Thieves

I read this this article about Kaiser Permanente's 'Thrive' advertising campaign earlier today and have intended to come back to it since then as I've had my fair share of interactions with KP with some mixed results including Oscar's birth which wasn't handled by a Kaiser facility directly, but covered under its plan.

The funny and timely part for me is that I'll be signing up for KP again in a few days despite being offered something like eight other health care options with my new employer. As an aside, my new employer is pretty badass when it comes to benefits, but I'm not talking about that directly here. The reason that I'm choosing that plan instead of the others is simply cost and convenience. This becomes especially important since the entire family is going to be on my plan which gets prohibitively expensive when you start looking at the smaller deductible plans that aren't quite as HMO-ish. I'm not 100% stoked on the plan, but with its smallish cost I can afford to go wherever I want if KP's typically conservative recommendations don't tug cherubically at my heart strings and I can still get the drugs I need to take daily in order to avoid dying mailorder.

Now, to the article above: I agree with the author that KP isn't exactly the source of all evil that it is often characterized as. It also is not the all smiling and huggy organization that the ad campaign suggests. The one smidge of truth about the entire campaign is that (and this carries over into even the el cheapo plans I think) is that preventative care costs nothing. This makes perfect sense because, after all, "KP is a business above all and is much happier when you're covering the costs of routine exams with office visit payments. This makes you feel better about paying them money and makes KP more profitable at the same time. It's almost like we're working together towards a common goal. Just like the voice over said, man!

The larger point that is being made by Clayton Lord is that KP is winning the public relations war by using the PR methodology that organizations that perform functions that are genuinely and only in the interest of the public good should be using. They're successfully feeding us our own dog food and actually influencing educated (well, sorta) opinion in their favor and not resorting to outright information to make these points. Another thing that Lord nails that hadn't really occurred to me before reading his article was the capitalization on the idea that KP is a non-profit organization (it isn't; not-for-profit is another ball of wax entirely). I really like the way he summarizes his feelings about it:

Where this gets me in terms of New Beans is more abstract, maybe. There’s something vaguely aggravating to me about these organizations, which, while technically nonprofits, are hugely successful business enterprises without a true social welfare mission, co-opting public value arguments that we should be making. And at the same time, given that we don’t really spend a lot of time making them, maybe having someone else do it isn’t the worst thing. And, at least in terms of Kaiser, it’s not just smoke—they also have a thriving theatre program that takes health-themed short plays into local schools to teach kids about being healthy through art.

So, sadly, folks who do work in genuinely non-profit arenas have something to learn from KP (or at least their agency) about projecting that good outward. How frustrating.

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