Stick Your Head In The Box And Let It All Out

| Tue Feb. 27, 2007 9:53 PM EST

Last week, Californians in Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Monica voluntarily stuck their heads in a white box to share their thoughts about healthcare.

The "chat boxes" are part of the "We (Shield) You" Campaign, which nonprofit Blue Shield designed to assess consumer dissatisfaction. People were invited to step up to a white box, put their head inside of a hole, and give their critique. Inside the box was a two-man film crew recording people's comments, which will get shipped back to Blue Shield for review.

It's about time we had a healthcare confessional.

A 2006 Harris Interactive poll, which found that consumers ranked health companies third lowest just above oil and tobacco, likely motivated the chat box campaign. One 50-year-old woman, Nancy, went to Union Square in downtown San Francisco Friday to stick her head in the box on her way to visit her Medicaid-recipient father at a nearby hospital, and arrived just in time to see the film crew tearing down about an hour before the stated 5 p.m. end time. "This is just like Blue Shield to tell you one thing and then do another," she said. While the film crew set everything back up to get her on film, Nancy told me, "What bothers me is all this business about pharmaceuticals. I mean, they make it impossible for average people to get medication. For somebody who makes $1,500 a month, I can't afford $200, $300 or $400 a month for healthcare."

A bike messenger from Chicago told the film crew Friday that she had been hit by a car three times and had to host fundraisers to come up with the cash she needed to cover costs. A 58-year-old massage therapist from New York said she and her husband have to pay $1,800 a month for a combined health plan, a fee based on their age, not physical health. A woman with a "compromised liver" said she wound up paying more than she should have for treatment because she was misdiagnosed by several doctors. Several people complained that Blue Shield had refused to cover them because of pre-existing health conditions.

Doug Biehn, the organization's vice president of corporate marketing, said Blue Shield will "cherry pick" the best interviews and post them on blueshieldchatbox.com by the end of this month. By "best," Biehn means funny and compelling stories that do not include swearing and do not defame Blue Shield or other health insurance brands. By that definition, Nancy's critique of Blue Shield would not likely get posted.

Coincidentally, a lawsuit was filed last week against Blue Shield for reportedly canceling 300 policies in the past two years of people who reportedly became ill. No word on whether those folks showed up to talk in the box.

—Gary Moskowitz

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