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By Noemi Pollack

Oh dear! Aetna should know better…

Staying silent to the storm that is whirling around Aetna regarding its sudden threat to quit most of its Affordable Care Act insurance markets, is a definite no-no in anybody’s PR notebook. Aetna’s Facebook page this morning (Wednesday) spoke about “nutritious back-to-school lunches and mindful meditations for moms,” but not one word about the headlines they have caused.

A clear — “change the subject” — kind of thing.

Regardless of why Aetna is threatening to drop the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (and the reasons floating around are very suspect), the argument here is about how they are handling it.

Not. Silence. Period.

Their threat to quit the ACA has whipped up a whirlwind of fiery online conversations and yet the company remains unresponsive. Only four months ago Aetna’s CEO, Mark T. Bertolini was upbeat on the ACA saying, “We see this as a good investment,” touting the 1.2 million new customers that had flocked to Aetna under the health law’s new online markets. Now, quickly following the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) threat to block a deal for Aetna’s proposed $37 billion merger with Humana, Aetna retorted with a threat to abandon the ACA in 11 out of their 15 markets.

Sounds like a tit-for-tat move to me, and the consumer gets caught in the middle, of course.

Look, Aetna can do what it wants, but what it cannot do, as all socially conscious organizations know, is to show disdain for its customers.

The question is, is there anyone at the helm, or managing the steering wheel of the news flow at Aetna? Does the company think that by posting caring updates about sugary drinks, it will divert the online conversations?

How about a statement about what will happen should the deal with Humana come through? How about another, saying that they will have a plan in place for their customers as they move away from ACA? And how about having someone in place with the responsibility of being responsive to the online conversations? This sounds like PR 101, but it is not happening.

Consumers have refused to let the Hartford-based insurer off the hook for the move. Yet Aetna remains silent in the face of public rants. It is unthinkable. Does silence ever ride out an escalating storm?

It is a matter of greed, versus the public good. It really never works in the long run.