Did these messages score a bull’s eye with the press? “I saw a few Twitter postings that suggested the media was being swamped with items promoting health reform experts,” said Warren Robak, deputy director of media relations for the RAND Corp. the California-based think tank. One of them may have been Politico reporter Jason Millman, who, a few days before the decision, tweeted, “I can deal with ‘expert’ emails on SCOTUS/ACA but don’t call me to pitch me an expert.”
My own—decidedly non-scientific—sampling of coverage indicates that reporters did use experts’ remarks in their stories. Whether such commentary got picked up appeared to depend on the importance of the organization and reporters’ familiarity with them.
Did all this spinning have an effect on stories? Maybe.
“We got our message out, and the result speaks for itself,” said Stephen Schatz, senior director of media relations for the National Retail Federation, which was not pleased with the court’s decision because the law “wrongly focuses more on penalizing employers and the private sector than reducing health costs.” The NRF held conference calls with its member businesses and state associations, which in turn spoke to journalists. For example, the head of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, told NorthJersey.com, the website of The Record. “All this is going to do is penalize employers.”.
The NFIB collected 730 clips mentioning the organization—another record for an outfit that usually gets about 100 for any particular announcement, Card said. Most outlets in that clip collection noted the NFIB’s disappointment with the ruling.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a statement promising that “over one million uninsured New Yorkers will soon have access to affordable coverage” and that his office “stands ready to enforce the Affordable Care Act.” The media jumped on that one, with several outlets in New York and elsewhere noting Schneiderman’s comments, along with reaction from other state officials.
The media, however, seemed less interested in what lesser-known commentators had to say. For example, Nancy Dallavalle, a theologian from Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, got just a couple of hits—one in the Boston Herald.com and one in Orlando Sentinel.com, which picked up her press release quote verbatim.
There’s nothing wrong, of course, with all this flackery, given the scope and drama surrounding the Supreme Court decision and the health reform law itself. And buried in many of these messages were nuggets of good story ideas for sharp-eyed reporters to pursue, which are far more important than the great tsunami of reaction quotes that washed over the media.
For me, the most useful PR message came from the actuarial firm Milliman, which pointed journos in a number of crucial directions. Milliman works with insurance companies, and expansion of private insurance is the sine qua non of the Affordable Care Act.
Its press release identified ten strategic considerations, useful not only for the firm’s clients but for reporters who want to do a bang-up job covering the ACA going forward. Milliman flagged such questions as these: What will be employers’ role in insuring early retirees? What kind of cost shifting from one payer to another will still occur? What will happen to Medicaid and all its complexity? And how will insurers deal with the costs associated with insuring a lot of very sick people, since the law requires them to take patients with preexisting conditions. “The cost problem persists,” the release warned. “What can be done about it?” That’s a big one for us journalists to work on.