The recent political attacks on Planned Parenthood will seem to some as righteous and others as an attempt to control half the population. But put any personal political views to the side for a moment, because there is an even deeper meaning for the healthcare industry – whether the issue is Planned Parenthood, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, insurance reforms, or requirements to implement particular technologies. Companies and leaders continue to find themselves in political minefields and must have or develop the skills and savvy to negotiate them.
There’s nothing new to the idea of politics within any organization. Bring more than two people together in a room, and interpersonal dynamics will ensure that getting anything done will require negotiation, management of relationships, coalition building, attention to partisan interests, and all the other aspects of political existence.
Now expand the group of hundreds of millions of people, all of whom have at least some personal interest, and subgroups of whom have deeply vested interests and desires to attain and hold power, and you no longer have just office politics, but Politics on a state and national level. The dynamic adds complications into how healthcare executives must lead their organizations and negotiate political forces to pursue their strategic goals.
For example, leaders must form strategic goals with explicit examination of the potential alliances, oppositions, and challenges from the body politic. Were that it were otherwise, but looking only within the organization’s walls for the tools to employ and the weaknesses to overcome is short-sighted.
Lobbying, for example, has become a common staple in the industry, especially among the largest players – healthcare organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and others – who have significant financial resources they can bring to bear. According to the analysis of federal election data by the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2013 and 2014 alone the health sector spent more than $141 million ($131 million directly to parties and candidates) to educate and influence the political process. That makes the industry the sixth largest one in terms of donations of $200 or more by PACs and individuals. The amount also doesn’t count non-industry forces that have their own agendas and that want to direct the process into results that fuel their own goals.
Any piece of legislation that might affect healthcare will see a run of attempts from all directions to influence the outcome. An organization’s leaders will need to try to influence receptive legislators and convince those who are opposed. In addition, they must work with other healthcare providers, trade associations, and non-profits to further sway the political process, understand in advance likely outcomes, and then accordingly adjust strategy.
Politics are messy, and many people don’t relish the fervor partisans can project, which can disrupt getting a job done. But for leaders, managing the ebb and flow of public will and debate is part of the job.
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