Hmos Turn Flaws Into Selling Points

Ads are popping up around the country that remind people why they hate HMOs: doctors with their hands tied, bean counters making medical decisions, patients having difficulty seeing a specialist.

But the ads are not the product of fed-up doctors or some outside critic. They’re produced by HMOs themselves - trying to appeal to an increasingly hostile public. The strategy is to tackle consumer fears head-on by explaining how the advertising HMO differs from others.

“It’s a diagnosis, not a business decision,” proclaim advertisements for the George Washington University Health Plan in Washington that feature doctors examining a little boy or examining an X-ray. In smaller print, they say, “We don’t put unreasonable restrictions on our doctors. We don’t tell them they can’t send you to a specialist.”

In Chicago, HMO Illinois ads promise: “We want to be your health plan, not your doctor.”

The approach isn’t surprising given the bad publicity managed care has seen in recent years, said Donald E.L. Johnson, editor of Health Care Advertising Review and

“It’s the beginning of a trend,” Johnson said. “You’re going to see more of this as the health plans figure out they have a real problem.”

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