By Jack Minor
The White House is doubling down on its promotion of Obamacare, the signature administration legislation that now is being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court for its constitutionality, with a new plan to spend $20 million of taxpayer money to promote it.
The news follows by just days an order from the Obama administration that insurance companies send letters to all of their policy holders praising the plan.
According to a report today from the Heritage Foundation, Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services has signed a contract for $20 million for a public relations firm to promote Obamacare.
The report said the department’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has awarded the contract to Porter Novelli. The firm, with offices worldwide, also promotes PepsiCo and Hewlett Packard products.
The report said the campaign will aim to “educate” the public about “how to stay healthy” by promoting various aspects of Obamacare.
Many polls reveal Americans solidly against the law, and some analysts believe the Supreme Court, which is reviewing a key component of it, might strike it down.
The agency has asked for more money from Congress to expand federal staffing levels so that workers can “help Americans understand and access their benefits and information under the law,” the Heritage report said.
Judicial Watch earlier reported on the results of a Freedom of Information Act request that revealed:
- Obama’s administration tracked Internet searches and used online search engines such as Google to drive traffic to a government website promoting Obamacare, spending some $1.4 million.
- The administration regularly has used documents to talk about the need to target the Obamacare propaganda campaign to Hispanics, blacks and women. For example, according to an email from Chris Beakey, vice president of Ogilvy PR Worldwide, to HHS officials Dec. 16, 2010, summarizing a conference call, “You want to utilize the bulk of their paid media efforts (which would include expenditures for Radio One and Univision) on media that reaches African Americans and Hispanics.”
Earlier, the Obama administration issued a requirement that insurance companies send letters to all of their policy holders touting Obamacare.
Under Obamacare medical loss ratio regulations, insurance companies must spend a minimum of 80 percent of premium dollars on medical costs in individual and small-group markets and 85 percent in large-group markets. Companies that fail to meet the goals must issue rebates to policy holders.
Under a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, insurers are projected to issue a total of $1.3 billion in rebates with the majority going to large employers and small businesses.
Insurance companies have said the rebates are expected to average around $127, however premiums are expected to rise by a larger amount as a result of new benefits and other requirements.
Just weeks ago, the administration told insurance companies they would be required to send letters to all policy holders, including those not receiving rebates, talking about the benefits of Obamacare.
Companies are required to enclose a letter along with the rebate check telling customers in the first paragraph of the mailing: “This letter is to inform you that you will receive a rebate of a portion of your health insurance premiums. This rebate is required by the Affordable Care Act – the health reform law.”
The rules also require companies to issue a similar letter to the rest of their customers who do not qualify for the rebate advising they are not receiving a check because the company has met Obamacare’s goals under the medical loss regulations. Insurers have expressed concerns the mailing requirements could add to administrative costs and make it more difficult to meet the medical loss requirements.
“Imposing a new arbitrary cap on health-plan administrative costs will not make coverage more affordable,” said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans. “We remain concerned that sending these notices is unnecessary and could increase administrative costs.”
The rule comes amid polling that consistently shows a majority of Americans remain opposed to Obamacare, which Nancy Pelosi called the president’s “crown jewel.”
Administration officials have expressed frustration that more than two years after its passage, Americans have not enthusiastically embraced the law. During the debate on the plan, Pelosi said it needed to be passed so the American people could find out what was in it. Officials have since claimed that opposition to the law is simply ignorance on the part of the American people, and if they knew more about what was in the legislation, they would support it.
Last month in a speech to doctors, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urged doctors to use their authority “to educate people.”
“We don’t need to tell them that the Affordable Care Act is going to change the world. We just need to tell them how the law can help, right now,” she said.
The requirement that companies must credit Obama is reminiscent of early requirements by the administration that local governments using stimulus fund money erect signs stating the project was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and featuring a logo that some said bore a striking resemblance to Obama’s campaign logo.
U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., conducted an investigation into the total cost to taxpayers of the signs, however the departments disbursing the funds did not appear to know how much money was spent.
Seamus Kraft, a spokesman for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said requests to get at total cost amounts for the signs were met with general estimates and approximations.
“They cannot seem to agree on what has been spent, they say there is no accurate way to verify the expenditures,” he reported.
The administration has also attempted to gag insurance companies from advising consumers of how insurance costs would increase as a result of Obamacare.
In 2010, Sebelius sent a letter to the insurance lobby telling them the administration would not tolerate companies telling customers their premiums were going up because of Obamacare.
“There will be zero tolerance for this type of misinformation and unjustified rate increases,” she said. “Simply stated, we will not stand idly by as insurers blame their premium hikes and increased profits on the requirement that they provide consumers with basic protections.”
The Obama administration also issued a gag order prohibiting Humana, a health care company that provides Medicare advantage services, from telling customers how Obamacare could reduce the availability of such services. Jonathan Blum, acting director of a regulatory office in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said a mailer Humana sent to its customers was “misleading and confusing” to policy holders.