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“They” can be a powerful weapon.

It can conjure the other side, the opponent, the adversary against whom “we” are fighting. That word is being bandied about between providers and payers in the escalating feud over the high cost of healthcare. And it suggests that behind closed doors, negotiations between those two parties are getting nastier as the cost of healthcare comes back into focus.

Case in point: “That doesn’t mean they’re not going to try to use this,” said USC healthcare professor Glenn Melnick earlier this year while suggesting hospitals are abusing COVID-19 relief funds. His apparent purpose was to assign blame and set providers as the adversary.

Scanning headlines, it’s obvious that the intense public spotlight pointed at hospitals pre-pandemic has returned (remember surprise billing and hospitals suing patients?). Talk of healthcare heroes is ebbing way, with chatter flowing about the evils of consolidation and health systems driving the cost of care while focusing on profits over patients. Hospitals are being framed as “Them.” Unfortunately, the newsworthy stories about poor billing practices, limited access or other non-consumer-friendly behaviors are self-inflicted wounds by specific hospitals that create opportunities for other actors to paint with a broad brush, undermine providers’ positions and cast doubt about their motivations.

Meanwhile, the insurance industry is working to remake its image from a poorly understood and disliked group to the torch-bearers for patient-centric care. “We.” “Us.” It’s even rebranded its trade association to “AHIP” and is using broader messaging to get away from the focus on insurance. All of this appears to be part of an orchestrated campaign, that’s quite frankly, a savvy PR move.