Friday, August 10, 2007

Doctor Big Brother

He works for the Kaiser

Are you familiar with the Kaiser? Kaiser Permanente is a huge health maintenance organization that serves California and several other states. Most of my colleagues in education have Kaiser as their health plan, especially since employees experience more out-of-pocket expense with other plans. Kaiser costs less because it controls more: You see Kaiser doctors at Kaiser facilities. While it's possible at some point to get a referral that takes you outside the Kaiser system, that is not standard operating procedure.

Clients of Kaiser sometimes grouse about the limitations of the system, but most people seem content with the trade-off of personal choice in favor of cost control. That is, after all, one of the guiding principles of HMOs.

Kaiser Permanente works hard to keep its name before the public and to encourage people to opt for its services when selecting the provider of their employee health benefits. Currently Kaiser is running a series of television advertisements that use “Thrive” as a linking motto. The Thrive campaign is nothing exceptional, featuring the usual healthy, well-scrubbed people who show no signs of needing any special medical attention. We all understand that we're supposed to link the images of healthy-looking people with enrollment in Kaiser. I get it.

What I don't get is why Kaiser thinks its “Entourage” ad will give people warm feelings toward the company. This recently revived spot (originally created in 2004) shows how Kaiser personnel will follow you around all day, intervening in your personal choices and taking control of your life. Isn't that what all of us want? A cardiologist and an internist check a guy's blood pressure and take his vitals while he's trying to participate in a business meeting. A dietitian sneaks up during lunch and swaps the person's chicken dinner for a salad. An optometrist hovers over that person while he puts on his glasses. During the commute home, a physical therapist in the back seat mauls the guy's shoulders while he tries to drive. Then, when the fellow gets home and greets his wife, the entire entourage follows the couple upstairs and a smiling pediatrician waits outside their bedroom door as they presumably work on conceiving a child. Isn't that cozy? Doesn't that mirror your fondest dreams?

The commercial notes that “You don't have to be famous to have an entourage.” Given how much we all hope for an entourage of our own, Kaiser has certainly homed in on a vulnerable point. The next time you're making love to your partner, consider how much happier you would be if a grinning Kaiser physician were just on the other side of the door. Bedside manner has taken on a whole new meaning with Kaiser's entourage coverage.


Anonymous said...

It's a psychological ploy to make you feel better about never seeing the same provider twice. The team approach to health care is a lie, and there is no continuity of care. Even the new electronic medical records don't improve the situation because the doctors (if you are allowed to see one -- it's much more likely to be seen by a nurse practitioner or physicians assistant) aren't given enough time with each patient to study your medical history. Move 'em in, move 'em out should be the new slogan.

Aaron Kinney said...

The commercial is certainly 1984-ish. As an employee of an HMO company myself, this commercial reminds me of familiar things.

If you dont want this kind of invasiveness in your personal life, then you need to do 2 things:

1) Don't sign up with Kaiser, or any HMO. If you can't afford a PPO, then just stay un-insured. If you're already sick when you sign up to an HMO, they probably wont cover your pre-existing illness anyway.

2) Fight the implementation of a universal health care system with all your might. Government health plans do the "1984" impression better than anybody else.