H’w’d gets checkup, AAHP gets reps

Org seeks to dispel negative image by 'bridge building'

They’d like a second opinion.

Seeking to burnish their image in Hollywood and, by extension, the rest of America, the largest lobbying body for HMOs, the American Assn. of Health Plans, has signed with the William Morris Agency.

The AAHP, which represents the top 1,000 health insurance plans in the country serving more than 170 million Americans, was quick to describe its retention of the percentery as in the service of “bridge building” and not as an org coming to town “to pick apart scripts,” per prexy-CEO Karen Ignagni.

Ignagni said a “largely negative” image of HMOs in movies and TV shows can be changed with awareness of the good that provider networks do for patients.

‘Powerful influence’

“Since almost three times as many Americans watch the television show ‘ER’ than ‘NBC Nightly News,’ it’s safe to assume that many viewers learn about today’s health care-related issues through entertainment programming,” said Johnny Levin, senior VP of WMA’s consulting division. “The AAHP recognizes the powerful influence of entertainment. We’re looking forward to helping them engage the creative community in a way that will benefit their members and the American public.”

“We’re not coming to town with a chip on our shoulder,” Ignagni told Daily Variety. “We just want to provide writers, directors and producers with the opportunity to get balanced information. We could sit around and bellyache, or we can do something about it. We’re doing something about it.”

In recent months, movies such as “John Q” — starring Oscar winner Denzel Washington as a father desperate enough to save his son’s life to take a hospital hostage — and telepics such as Showtime’s “Damaged Care” have no doubt left the health insurance biz feeling a bit under the weather. Both pics left most Americans with a dim view of HMOs.

First step

As the first partnership to be formed between a health care association and a talent agency, AAHP hopes to leverage the power, influence and reach of the high-profile entertainment industry, said WMA’s Levin, a 15-year veteran of the William Morris Agency. He will spearhead the team working in conjunction with Phil Guarascio and Steve Sugerman. Guarascio is a consultant to the William Morris Agency and the former head of marketing at General Motors. Sugerman is the head of Sugerman Communications Group and former deputy mayor of Los Angeles under Richard Riordan.

“Hollywood can influence public perception and consumer choices,” Levin explained. “We’re not censors. And we’re not looking for any producer, writer or director to change anything. But we are saying, ‘This is worthy of discussion and debate.’ ”

The AAHP’s stated aim is to become a resource to those in Hollywood creating health care-related content by providing access to the best medical experts in the world.

William Morris Consulting also will help identify and execute entertainment-based marketing opportunities for the AAHP that communicate the complex issues surrounding health care to the public.

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