Peterson-Milbank Program for Sustainable Health Care Costs Communications Toolkit: Engaging Stakeholders for Success

Peterson-Milbank Program for Sustainable Health Care Costs


This toolkit aims to support the development of a communications plan that effectively shares the value of and progress within a state’s cost growth target initiative. A communications plan should ensure clear communication across key stakeholders, specifically state executive branch officials, state legislators, employers, health advocates, providers, and payers, as well as journalists and the public. Resources in this toolkit will help state officials working on cost growth target initiatives highlight the project objectives and describe the rationale, progress, and evidence to date.

Communications Plan

A communications plan is the first step for consistent, transparent sharing of information that provides a roadmap of goals, audiences, messages, and approaches to inform and engage audiences through press releases, infographics, meetings, and more. (Download the template.)

The communications plan should contain:

  • Communications goals
  • Overview of target audiences
  • Key messages
  • Tactics, e.g., primary products (press releases, infographics), events (meetings, webinars)
  • Timeline of activities

Communications goals. The communications goals should be derived from the program goals. If a state is pursuing a cost target to promote health care affordability, for example, a communications goal might include sharing evidence demonstrating that health care costs are currently rising at an unsustainable rate, making health care less affordable for individuals, employers, and the state. Another goal might be promoting an understanding of the steps involved in the target-setting and implementation process to generate buy-in for this approach among stakeholders.

Target Audiences. Key audience groups will include individuals, including state officials and members of stakeholder groups who are directly involved in the cost growth work; the broader group of stakeholders, e.g., insurers, health providers, employers, and patient advocates; and the public at large.

Key messages. At every opportunity, communications about the program should emphasize the capacity of the initiative to address core health care cost challenges. Messages may include:

  • Rising health care costs are stretching the budgets of the state, employers, and families, leaving fewer dollars for other priorities like education and housing
  • Rather than shift costs, we need to focus on the underlying causes of rising health care costs
  • Developing the capacity to track and benchmark health care spending across payers at the state level will promote a new understanding of total health care spending
  • Analysis of this spending data will pinpoint cost drivers, paving the way for systemwide, collaborative strategies to contain costs

Key statistics that support these messages are included in the Milbank Memorial Fund slide show about the Peterson-Milbank Program for Sustainable Health Care Costs. The cost growth target initiative can also be presented as part of a portfolio of state reforms and initiatives designed to improve health care affordability.

The key messages must be framed in a way that will resonate with a broad audience. Best practices to ensure that your messages are successfully received include:

  • Telling a complete and compelling story so that the conclusions drawn from the information are not left up to interpretation
  • Highlighting that cost growth targets are a systemwide, collaborative effort that incorporates public–private partnerships
  • Drawing attention to the systemic factors that have led to the problem of rising health care costs, so people are less inclined to blame state governments, employers, and individuals for health care affordability challenges
  • Highlighting that targets are a practical, step-by-step approach to addressing high costs
  • Explaining that health care cost containment can benefit all stakeholders, including high- and low-income people
  • Avoiding crisis language (to avoid fatalism), as well as the word “consumer” and other language that can distract from the systemic causes of rising costs

Tactics and Timeline of Activities. The communications products below are examples of tactics for message dissemination. A communications plan should include a release schedule for a one-year period that can be revisited every three months. These public-facing products should ideally live on a state website or landing page dedicated to the growth target initiative.

Communications Tools

This toolkit includes communication resources to fit specific state and contextual needs. The toolkit includes examples and some templates for:

  • Announcement/Press release
  • News coverage
  • Op-Ed/Blog
  • Infographic
  • Reports and slide decks for meetings, webinars, or forums
  • Social media posts

Announcements/Press Releases

The initial announcement or press release about a state’s health care cost growth target initiative is an important step that will help foster buy-in and build trust from the outset with key stakeholders and the public at large.

A press release may also be considered when announcing a) the creation of cost growth stakeholder committees or boards, b) the cost growth target itself, c) the initiation of implementation, or d) the release of the first year of performance data.

The Oregon Health Authority release announcing its cost growth target program cites the law that created the initiative, gives rationale for the project, describes the problem the cost targets are designed to address, shares the intended benefits for systems and consumers, and outlines the goals and process.

Delaware’s announcement of its baseline spending analysis is framed in a letter from the then-Delaware Health and Social Services Secretary Kara Odom Walker.

News Coverage

States can build credibility and reach multiple stakeholders by conducting outreach through local press or national media. These examples illustrate the type of local coverage that could be anticipated:

Op-Eds and Blogs

An op-ed or blog post can allow a state’s leadership or a member of a stakeholder group to make a case for why health care cost growth targets are a good way to begin to address rising health care costs. An op-ed or blog, ideally around 700 words, should be clear and jargon-free, make its point quickly, include compelling supporting examples and data, and end powerfully.

In the Milbank blog COVID-19’s Impact and Implications for Health Care Cost Growth Target Programs, Megan Burns and Michael Bailit of Bailit Health argue that the COVD-19 pandemic strengthens the case for cost growth targets.

In another Milbank blog post, Victoria Veltri, executive director of the State of Connecticut Office of Health Strategy, outlines what factors contributed to Connecticut’s Governor Ned Lamont’s decision to issue an executive order calling for the development of a health care cost growth target.

The Milbank blog announcing the five states participating in the Peterson-Milbank Program for Sustainable Health Care Costs uses accessible language and data to explain why these states are pursuing cost growth targets as a systemic cost containment strategy.

Milbank Memorial Fund President Christopher F. Koller’s blog post, States Start to Move Away from Health Care Cost Shifting, explains how cost growth targets represent a transition away from health care cost shifting led by consolidating health systems toward a focus on the underlying causes of rising health care costs.

Infographic, Fact Sheet, or Video “Explainers”

An infographic, fact sheet, or video can be a powerful visual way to explain a state’s initiative succinctly with both data and messaging that can illustrate the growth target’s value. These explainers can quickly:

  • Show the need for health care cost growth targets, e.g., rising spending and its impact on states, employers, and individuals
  • Outline components and categories of health care spending
  • Highlight the growth target as set
  • Show progress as realized

The website of the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission (HPC), the state agency that develops policy to reduce health care cost growth and improve the quality of patient care, offers a wealth of interactive graphics, including those featured in its HPC Data Points series of online briefs.

This Milbank Memorial Fund infographic explains the steps involved in Rhode Island’s cost growth target process.

This Oregon Health Authority’s fact sheet includes several key components:

  • Broadly describes the law or executive order and its goal (better care at a lower cost)
  • Shows the reasons this initiative is needed in terms of rising health care costs for families
  • Outlines the initiative, components and process, and intended outcomes
  • Provides a timeline for the work
  • Links to more information and ways to become involved

The Oregon Health Authority also offers a Frequently Asked Questions document that explains, at a high level what cost growth targets are, how the data collection and analysis process works, and how they can be leveraged to improve the affordability of health care.

An example of effective communication to gain buy-in from the lay public that’s not specifically about health care cost growth targets is the Minnesota Department of Health Economics video, The Health Care Spending Dilemma.

This PPT template using Connecticut data, which can be customized and saved as a series of images (one slide at a time) or an animated gif, can serve as a starting point for a state-specific infographic.

Slide Decks/Reports for Meetings, Webinars, or Forums

When presenting more detailed information in a stakeholder meeting, slide decks for example, are a reliable format.

This Oregon Health Authority slide deck offers a compelling presentation to somewhat knowledgeable stakeholders who have an interest in the cost growth targets. It provides a good overview and includes a strong rationalization for the project, as well as the goals, process, and a timeline.

Likewise, this Milbank Memorial Fund slide show outlines the goals of the Peterson-Milbank Program for Sustainable Health Care Costs for a policy audience by making a case for targets with data and providing an overview of the process.

Connecticut’s Office of Health Strategy (OHS) hosted a virtual public forum to share information and stakeholder perspectives on the state’s health care cost growth target. This event is one in a series of grassroots meetings that OHS is conducting to explain the initiative and get feedback. You can download the slides or watch a recording on YouTube.

Rhode Island’s Health Care Cost Trends Report to the Legislature is an effective presentation for multiple stakeholders that could be used when moving a cost project forward. The report:

  • Presents the ‘why’ for the project
  • Gives an overview of the work with a link to the executive order
  • Links to Steering Committee materials
  • Gives an analysis of health care cost growth in the baseline period
  • Outlines the process for project analysis and reporting
  • Shows one example of a deeper-dive analysis

Social Media Posts

Social media, including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, can allow for consistent communication with audiences across multiple platforms. These brief messages should almost always link to more detailed information.

The Massachusetts Health Policy Commission Twitter handle posts state health care cost information and data using compelling in-line graphics. This tweet shows the average amount of money a family with employer coverage spends per month on health care, while this tweet features takeaways from a March 25, 2021, benchmark hearing.