No Proactive PR

In last week's issue of PR NEWS, we told you about Children's National Medical Center's reactive communications strategy in handling its crisis with BlueCross BlueShield CareFirst. Children's has asked for a rate increase which it says is in keeping with rates paid to similar-caliber providers of pediatric care. CareFirst insists the rates are unreasonably high, and this week, the insurance company's PR team weighs in with its PR response. The clincher: CareFirst, too, says it has taken a reactive approach to the situation, leaving us to wonder where all the action's coming from: "In any dispute that becomes public, when the other guy has a sick kid on his side, you have to be very careful not to overreact," says Karen Pointon, CareFirst's director of communications, advertising and brand management. "That's what we've tried to avoid. Except for an initial statement to select media outlets in the Washington area announcing that Children's had terminated the contract talks, our public comments have been very reactive." CareFirst has responded to several media requests and has arranged three television interviews and three newspaper interviews, along with ads placed in The Washington Post responding to newspaper and radio ads from Children's. CareFirst's PR messages emphasize that Children's demand for a 25 percent increase in the reimbursement rate is unreasonable; the rate increase would make Children's reimbursement rate by far the highest in the area; there are many hospitals that provide quality pediatric care that are available in-network to CareFirst customers. (Pointon,

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