Providence upgrades its DC brand presence

In recent months, Providence Health and Services has launched a PR campaign in Washington DC to upgrade its brand among policy makers in the nation’s capital.  This effort has including making a new hire to lead government relations and purchasing prominent advertising space in DC.

It has launched a campaign with the headline “We believe health is a human right.”  Providence St. Joseph’s has 50 hospitals in the system crossing the seven states of Washington, Oregon, Alaska, California, Texas, Montana, and New Mexico.

The campaign has included a broad new electronic billboard at the DC Metro Union Station stop.  This is a primary stop for staff working on the Senate side of the capitol building.

It has included a large “Sponsored Content” section in the Washington Post that is available online, headlined “Mapping Out Equitable Care.”

 

Providence is also advertising in Politico, a prominent journal tracking the nation’s congressional and administrative policy and politics.

This effort comes as the organization has hired a new vice president of government and public affairs, Ali Santore.  In a blog post from earlier this year, Santore said a federal engagement strategy is part of a long tradition of Providence engaging its communities.

We have always been full participants in our communities, both in service and advocacy. This is not a time to be complacent, or to think that someone else is going to stand in the gap. We are here to care for the vulnerable and when needed to be their voice, guided by our advocacy agenda.

In Providence’s 2018 Advocacy Agenda, the organization says:

We believe that health care is a basic human right. When individuals and families have access to care, quality of life improves. It is vital to maintain coverage gains and to ensure the stability of health insurance markets.

One interesting item on the Advocacy Agenda is a push to allow hospitals to balance bill patients.  While historically, states have offered a patchwork of approaches to this model, some federal policy makers are pushing a bill this year that would create a federal standard.  From the Advocacy Agenda,

Support reasonable price transparency and balance billing that will help patients while avoiding overly burdensome requirements for hospitals.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) is reportedly spearheading a bi-partisan group to address balance billing by hospitals in states that don’t otherwise have a protection in this area.

While this sort of elevated brand strategy in the nation’s capital seems like a significant PR shift for Providence, lobbying disclosure records suggest Providence may not be spending any more money on trying to directly influence federal public policy through contracted lobbying firms.

According to federal lobbying reports, Providence St. Joseph’s has reported $310,000 in expenses related to lobbying for the first half of 2018.  This is $100,000 in lobbying contracts and another $210,000 in expenses as required by the Lobbying Disclosure Act.  These may be related to advertising or other expenses which are meant to influence public policy. It’s not clear.

Alternatively, it’s possible these recent expenditures on communications in Washington DC are not reported.  They may not have any direct relation to lobbying activity, in which case there may be no need to report these expenditures as lobbying expenditures.  In any case, they would not likely need to be reported until the third quarter reports are due.

That said, these amounts are not measurably different from recent years’ expenditures on lobbying, though they are down considerably from almost a decade ago.

Total expenses for all federal lobbying by Providence St. Joseph’s in 2017 was $180,000.  However, in 2017, Providence Health and Services (PH&S) continued to have lobbying contracts and expenditures in place that were separate from the then-newly organized Providence St. Joseph’s.  In 2017, PH&S spent $510,000 on lobbying, in addition to the $180,000 spent by Providence St. Joseph’s.  Recent amounts are down considerably from the highs of Prov’s spending during the ACA deliberations in Congress.

So, while there would appear to be a slight uptick in expenditures on lobbying in recent years, with reports from only half of 2018, that conclusion is not yet entirely clear.

What is clear is that Providence is engaging Washington DC and federal policy makers in a new, more public-facing way, elevating its prominence in the nation’s capital.