As the battle over health care reform rages in Congress, Regence BlueCross BlueShield is using a slick Internet site, social media and billboards to say that consumers bear much of the blame for high premiums.
The message isn't that bald, but it's there.
"It really is about motivating people about the real cost of health care and how the choices they make each day impact those costs. To motivate consumers to take action is really what it's all about," Regence spokeswoman Georganne Benjamin said Wednesday.
The campaign was kicked off by what the not-for-profit insurer believes is an unsustainable rise in health care costs, which lead to expensive insurance premiums that have been rising at double-digit rates for most of this decade.
Said Jill Vicory, director of member and community affairs for the Utah Hospital Association: "I guess what they are trying to do is engage the consumer. It's also probably a great tool for their employees to refer people to when they are asked about health care reform. I know I get asked about it all the time."
Benjamin said the campaign is meant to be educational, not political. But she acknowledges that it's part of a wider corporate effort to drive the discussion of health reform.
"Cost is a big factor in this debate, and we need to address the high rate of medical spending, or we will not have meaningful health care transformation. This campaign does play a role in that," she said.
The heart of Regence's campaign is an interactive Web site. But if a visitor overlooks or doesn't click on a link next to a navigation button, he won't easily discern that the site was put up by Utah's No. 2 health insurance provider.
That doesn't bother Jason Mathis, immediate past president of the Public Relations Society of America's Salt Lake City chapter and a former employee of Regence rival Intermountain Healthcare.
"It might not be the way I would choose to do it," said Mathis, who thinks Regence should stamp its name on every page of the Web site. "But I think they are making an effort in the 'About this site' section to let people know who is paying for [it] and where the information is coming from."
Regence is also using social media to spread its message to younger people. Buttons on whatstherealcost.org link users to the company's Facebook page and to its Twitter account. If someone finds the Twitter and Facebook sites without first going to whatstherealcost.org, links connect the user back to the Web site.
"That's where people are. They are online, and online is a central focal point of this campaign," Benjamin said.
Regence is also using traditional tactics.
It has erected billboards along Interstate 15 that display two messages : "Health care hums like a machine with no off button because we don't question it" and "Should 'Because it's covered' be guiding health care?"