Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Medicaid Insurance Crisis: Who’s in Charge of PR Here?

According to an article in the AARP Bulletin, a new rule designed to keep illegal immigrants off the Medicaid insurance rolls has had the net effect of denying healthcare coverage to tens of thousands of Native Americans … because they can’t prove that they’re U.S. citizens!

No one knows precisely how many have been affected, but in Oklahoma alone, more than 20,000 of its 700,000 Medicaid recipients — of whom almost 13% are Native Americans — have been dropped from the program, “not because they aren’t citizens, but because they’re having a tough time coming up with the right pieces of paper at the right time,” according to Mike Fogarty, CEO of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.

Native Americans and other minorities, including African Americans and Latinos, experience higher rates of infant mortality, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and cancer, according to the Office of Minority Health of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The causes are complex, but two major factors are 1) inadequate access to care and
2) substandard quality of care.

In today’s troubled economy, the issue of healthcare insurance for all Americans has the potential to become a serious public relations crisis for the entire insurance industry.

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The [Divorce] Court of Public Opinion

Tricia Walsh-Smith, an angry New Yorker engaged in a bitter divorce with her husband, a wealthy Broadway executive, is continuing to air her grievances on YouTube in the second of two videos about her impending divorce. The original video — which was downloaded more than 2.5 million times and was picked up by 383 mainstream media outlets in the first week — can be seen here.

Whether Walsh-Smith has helped or hurt her cause is immaterial … although I would imagine her shenanigans are unlikely to impress the judge who hears her divorce case. As MSNBC’s senior legal analyst Susan Filan said, “In the end, a divorce, as upsetting and emotional as it is, is just a financial transaction.”

As a PR practitioner in New York, who has worked for law firms and handled crisis management assignments, what concerns me is the increased potential for sudden, swift blogstorms — like this one — when parties to a lawsuit or crisis decide to take the communications into their own hands. My concern is intensified when the ultimate decision is the responsibility of lay people (members of a community or jury), who may be swayed by what they see and hear on the internet.

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A New High-Tech Tool for Cell Phone Junkies

I’ve been working in a technology public relations firm here in New York for more than 12 years now. It’s a great job … never boring. The only major downside is that all my non-tech-savvy, friends and relatives call me for advice whenever they’re faced with any major technology purchase. So I was thrilled to discover BillShrink, a new free service on the web that compares your current cell-phone plan to those offered by other wireless carriers and shows you the plans with the best call quality, at the lowest cost, based on your own personal usage needs. It’s still a little buggy, but BillShrink could be an invaluable tech tool that works for everyone who hates the complications that come with choosing a mobile plan.

(For the record, I currently use Verizon Wireless, but BillShrink says I could save $426 annually with T-Mobile. I’m definitely going to have to check that out!)

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Early Ends to Positive Oncology Trials? Not Always Good News.

According to a study published recently in the Annals of Oncology, there is a growing tendency for pharmaceutical manufacturers and clinical investigators to call a premature halt to cancer drug trials the moment a benefit appears, in order to beat their competitors to market.

The Italian group analyzed 25 randomized controlled trials of oncology drugs between 1997 and 2007 — all of which were stopped early after showing some patient benefits. More than half of the trials were stopped in the past three years. Five had enrolled less than 40% of the target number of patients. The researchers warn that “the risk of overestimating treatment effects increases markedly when the sample is small.”

Paul S. Mueller, MD, an associate professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic— who wasn’t involved with the Annals of Oncology study — concurs, saying, “Decisions are being made on some fairly shaky evidence.”

We agree with Dr. Mueller’s conclusion: “Trials should be carried out long enough in order to obtain data about outcomes important to doctors and patients.” It’s not just good public relations; it’s good public health.

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