Health Care Reform the 2016 Where’s Waldo

At this time in 2011, six months before the Iowa caucuses, health care reform was a big deal. Republicans couldn’t see a live microphone without calling for its repeal. And one would think that the official name of what was commonly referred to as “Obamacare” was “the President’s signature issue” in his first term. Flash forward four years and health care reform is now the “Where’s Waldo” issue of 2016: it’s there somewhere, but darn well hidden.

True, every candidate on the GOP wants to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. They are all happy to haul out the old tropes about how the ACA is a job killing, anti-free market, mess and a government overreach. Many will be happy to explain how it’s all unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, every candidate on the Democratic side is defending the ACA, although some more enthusiastically than, well, at least one. Candidate Bernie Sanders has promised to introduce “Medicare for all” legislation (a euphemism for single payer) soon and would seek a single payer solution were he to become president. Yet even on the Democratic side, the topic of the ACA is pretty well hidden in their campaigns.

In fact, a quick survey of campaign web sites shows a remarkable lack of emphasis on health care reform by presidential candidates. On the Democratic side, health care reform doesn’t make the issues list on the campaign web sites of former Governor Martin O’Malley or Senator Bernie Sanders. Defending the Affordable Care Act is the ninth issue addressed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s web site.

On the Republican side Donald Trump is too busy bullying his opponents and the press to mention any issues other than immigration on his site. Health care reform makes Dr. Ben Carson list of issues, but he devotes just 98 words to the topic — and the only alternative he mentions is his support of health savings accounts. Former Governor Jeb Bush’s site is nearly issues free (there’s a white paper on his tax reform plan in the “news” section, but there is no “issues” tab). I couldn’t find anything about health care reform on the site. Then, I couldn’t find the issue (or any issues) on Carly Fiorina‘s or Senator Ted Cruz‘s sites, either.

Governor Scott Walker announces his intent to repeal Obamacare on his first day in office. And although I couldn’t find it on his web site, to his credit Governor Walker has offered a plan to replace the ACA. Senator Marco Rubio gets around to discussing health care reform on his web site after first mentioning 17 other issues while on Governor John Kasich‘s site it comes in at #3.

Given all that’s going on the world, it’s not surprising health care reform isn’t a driving issue. Which is remarkable. Health care reform arguably gave birth to the Tea Party movement. It cost Democrats the majority in the House in 2010 and helped chip away at their Senate majority until that was lost, too. In short, health care reform moved elections.

Now, not so much. The ACA is a part of America’s landscape now. Too many people are insured under the law to repeal it. Too much physical, digital and process infrastructure has been built out. Too many stakeholders are vested in the ACA continuing and opponents of the reforms have no coherent program to replace it.

This isn’t a bad thing. Because it opens up a real possibility that, once there’s a new President and Congress in 2017, they can accomplish something important: fixing the Affordable Care Act. The law has lots of flaws, but the debate since it’s passage has too often been an all-or-nothing affair: dump it or defend it. Yes, there’s been some tweaking around the edges of the legislation, but not the comprehensive review and modification that’s needed.

Finding Waldo can be hard. Finding a way forward to improve the ACA will be harder still. If little kids can find Waldo, perhaps there’s hope that what passes for adults in Congress can find common ground to improve the ACA. That’s still a long shot, but perhaps a bit more possible now than just a year or two ago.

Brokers Object to Zenefits’ Comparison for Wrong Reason

Zenefits recently launched a new marketing campaign and some brokers are going ballistic. What’s interesting is that brokers are angry for the wrong reason.

Zenefits is not an innovative company. Take its sales proposition: make us your employee benefits broker of record and we’ll give you free HR software. Clearly the folks behind Zenefits eat a lot of Cracker Jack—a company that has been offering a prize in every box since 1912. Or maybe one of their parent’s got a free toaster for opening a checking account. Free toasters for consumers opening a checking account was considered cutting-edge marketing back in the day–the day being some time in the 1960s. That Zenefits has applied this technique to employee benefits is hardly the innovation their cheerleading investors claim.

No surprise then to see Zenefits reach back into the dusty advertising time capsule for another “new” idea. This time they emerged with the ageless and oft-seen “direct competitor comparison” technique. This is where one company compares their services against those of a particular rival. Car companies, satellite TV providers, car insurers, aspirin manufacturers and dozens of others have been doing this for years. Now Zenefits has jumped on board this ageless bandwagon. Again, not what I would call innovative. And in this case, not very effective, but, as we’ll see, clever.

Successful competitor comparisons depend on carefully selecting the comparison criteria. For example, Zenefits doesn’t compare themselves to community-based brokers based on knowledge of the local market or availability for face-to-face meetings (because Zenefits would look bad). Nor does Zenefits address obtaining an employer’s payroll company log-in information providing access to what your typical identity thief would sell a parental unit to see (hint: that would be Zenefits being creepy).

No, Zenefits stacked the comparison in their favor and some of those being compared are claiming foul. Yet, I believe they’re missing the point of what Zenefits is doing. In reality, I don’t think brokers have much to fear by Zenefits’ latest marketing scheme.

First, most consumers know these kinds of comparisons tilt in favor of the one doing the comparison. Shoppers will likely discount the credibility of what they see. Second, clients are not going to leave a particular broker because of a comparison buried deep inside Zenefits’ web site. If a broker loses a client because the employer miraculously stumbles across this comparison, that client was heading for the door anyway.

Zenefits knows this … and they don’t care. I don’t believe they created these hundreds of comparison pages (maybe thousands, I got tired of counting) to steal business away from these agencies. They created the comparison pages to improve their search results (known as search engine optimization or SEO).

The exact algorithms used by Google, Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo and other search engines to determine the order in which sites appear on their results pages are secret, but the general ideas are well understood. One popular technique is to provide legitimate links to multiple sites all focusing on a relevant subject matter. When shoppers use key words associated with that subject matter the search engines associate the linking site and move them up the results page.

That’s why each Zenefits comparison page includes the web address of each compared agency. That’s hundreds (or thousands) of legitimate links to sites that address health insurance and other employee benefits. From an SEO-perspective, this a tsunami of positive associations.

An added benefit for Zenefits, although not nearly as significant, is that eventually they may appear on the first result page when shoppers search these agencies by name. Will shoppers see this link and choose Zenefits over the broker they were searching for? Not often, if ever, but it can’t hurt. And that this will royally piss-off (to use the technical marketing term) those brokers may warm the cockles of Zenefits’ management’s heart – a group who has demonstrated little respect for traditional brokers.

Some of the brokers on the Zenefits web site complain that the comparison is unfair and violates some code of ethics.True, the comparisons are blatantly unfair and cheesy, but seem within the bounds of generally accepted advertising techniques (or tricks, if you prefer).

Many of these complaining brokers are strong advocates for a free market. Zenefits’ management are capitalists taking advantage of that free market. Big deal. Even Zenefits probably doesn’t think this latest marketing ploy will take much business away from the agencies they’ve picked on. I believe its the improvement to their search results that made the effort involved worthwhile to them.

So what should independent brokers do? Offer your clients the kind of HR software Zenefits offers. (Full disclosure, my company, Take44, will be launching NextAgency soon – a platform that allows brokers to provide clients with free HR administration similar to what Zenefits does).

While waiting for NextAgency, fight fire with fire (or, in this case, unfair comparisons with unfair comparisons). Do your own competitive comparison and post it on your web site. This comparison should focus on your strengths and Zenefits’ many weaknesses. Remember, as Zenefits has demonstrated, a neutral comparison is optional. Posting this comparison will not only make you feel better, it will help your own search engine optimization.

You can help your SEO even more by publishing articles online that link back to your web sites. Or by creating an agency site on LinkedIn or the like. The more sites that link to your site, the less likely Zenefits will make an appearance on your results page.

In short, don’t get upset with Zenefits for playing an old-fashioned advertising card. Trump them with your own marketing. That, after all, is how free markets work.