Watch out: Tales of financial woe can backfire

This week, a state report concluded that Pennsylvania's hospitals are doing well financially. Sure, even in a state that enjoys a nice collective margin there must be some hospitals that aren't making it, but things clearly look good overall. The strange thing is, that isn't necessarily a good thing--at least not from a PR standpoint.

After all, many of the arguments the hospital industry lobby has been making suggest that most hospitals are right on the brink of disaster. And most of the remedies these industry groups propose are predicated on the notion that the government needs to spend generously to make sure hospitals don't blow away in a stiff breeze.

All of this is to say that while hospitals should draw attention to the financial burdens they carry--and the responsibility government should assume for the less fortunate--I think the "we're-running-out-of-money" argument may be played out. If nothing else, it gives hospitals little ground on which to build a partnership with other stakeholders when their margins are high.

If I were a managed care executive, I'd use this as a reason to ratchet down contract prices. Government leaders may very well say "Hey, you had all that money last year--just do what you did then," and feel quite comfortable cutting back. And the public, well, let's just say they hate paying multiple-thousand-dollar bills when they read hospital success stories. Bottom line: If you're pitiable when you're poor, you're a target when you're rich.

The truth is, if hospitals want more support, they're going to have to emphasize something other than their financial state (precarious or otherwise). They're going to have to figure out how to better sell the value of what they do, rather than threaten people with the loss of vital services.

That's something other industries mastered ages ago, and it's long overdue here. The truth is, virtually any non-healthcare CEO worth their salt can explain in just a few sentences why their services add unique value to the marketplace. Now, hospital CEOs, it's your turn. - Anne