I’ve never paid that much attention to Health Plan marketing, until a few days ago when a few surprises from Blue Cross/Blue Shield kind of hit me upside the head.
First, a few mornings ago at the gym (of all places), I caught a TV spot from Blue Cross, urging uninsured folks to sign up for their independent medical coverage — “which will cost you just a few dollars a day — about what you’d spend on a video rental, or a chew toy for your pug,” the ad posed. The ad was cute, catchy, and thoroughly professional. Thoroughly commercial. Thoroughly American. Frankly, it kind of blew my mind.
I’ve spent a good chunk of my adult life living in Europe, where health insurance is provided by the state and considered a basic human need, rather than just another product to be marketed and sold. Opt-in independent plans are naturally far superior to being uninsured. Yet as a person with a chronic disease, the idea that I might end up essentially working for my disease is unsavory, to say the least. And the idea that a Health Plan would cough up the kind of money required for flashy TV ads hinted at a Big Business approach to healthcare that I’d rather not think about at all…
Then today we get a postcard from Blue Shield (our current coverage plan) picturing six happy, healthy-looking adults, arm-in-arm, grinning. The tag-line reads: “Which person in this photo is at risk for pre-diabetes?” The content on the flip-side explains “They may all be — and not even know it,” followed by the stats that about 40 percent of Americans ages 40 to 74 have pre-diabetes, and urging readers to contact the company for a free Pre-Diabetes Facts and Risks brochure.
Now think again about that tagline: “… at risk for pre-diabetes?” Do you realize what this means? This is a costly direct-mail campaign for Pre-Pre-Diabetes — the state of affairs before you’re even told you have Pre-Diabetes, defined by the way, as fasting glucose of over 100 but under 126 (which sounds like a triumph to a Type 1 like myself, but let’s not go there for now). The point here is that Blue Shield, for one, is so concerned about the spread of diabetes that they’re out to nip it in the bud before the bud even emerges. Wow. I’d sure like to know how many people react to the postcard and actually request the Pre-Diabetes information packet!
All this proactive recruitment on the part of healthcare is good and bad, I suppose. The profit motives lurking in the background make me a little naseous, to be honest. But if the outcome helps patients — in obtaining vital coverage and avoiding chronic conditions — then maybe the free market does manage to sufficiently regulate itself.
Meanwhile, we’re preparing for our annual family sojourn to Europe, and I’ll be on the lookout for similar developments over there — although I’m pretty convinced that in a more “socialized” world, spunky TV commercials and glossy postcards for Healthcare Plans would just seem downright CRAZY.