President Obama’s health care takeover is so unpopular with voters that he has stopped talking about it in public. Behind the scenes, however, he’s tapping into taxpayers’ pockets for a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to change their minds. Congress wants answers.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spent $20 million to hire the global advertising agency Porter Novelli to promote Obamacare, according to a report in PR Week. An unnamed HHS official told the magazine the campaign is to “inform” Americans about the “many preventive benefits” available as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
On Tuesday, Rep. Charles W. Boustany Jr., chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight, wrote HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and demanded that she turn over all information on contracts for public relations, advertisements, polling and message testing since 2008. The Louisiana Republican set a June 1 deadline, and if Mrs. Sebelius doesn’t respond, he will subpoena the material.
“We want a full accounting because some of this seems to me to venture into the political arena, which would mean it’s more about Obama’s reelection than sharing of public information,” Mr. Boustany said in an interview with The Washington Times. “The administration is desperate to salvage Obamacare because it realizes it’s a political liability.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, and Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, have been investigating the Obama administration’s use of taxpayer money on media campaigns for the Senate’s subcommittee on contracting oversight. HHS is one of just three agencies that have not been responsive. Mr. Portman also wrote Mrs. Sebelius on Tuesday asking for the department’s legal opinion on whether the public-relations contract complies with the law barring government-appropriated funds from being used for “publicity or propaganda.”
The HHS ad blitz is part of a larger effort. Last year, the administration spent more than $1 million sending out postcards to small-business owners regarding Obamacare’s small-business tax credit, as only about 5 percent of those eligible are using it. Mr. Obama paid Ogilvy Public Relations $26 million in stimulus funds to spin his health care law, $18 million of which was used to create a “publicity center.”
HHS spent $19 million in 2010 to send out 40 million glossy brochures to Medicare beneficiaries about the health care law, parts of which the General Accounting Office conceded contained “overstatements” of the benefits and “a positive view… that is not universally shared.”
In 2010, the White House spent $3.6 million on TV ads featuring actor Andy Griffith claiming Medicare benefits would “stay the same” under the new law. The ad is misleading because 1 in 4 seniors in Medicare Advantage will have benefits cut. These are only the Obamacare PR campaigns that have leaked out, after the money was spent.
As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said on the floor on Wednesday, “Americans don’t want him spending their hard-earned money trying to spin policies they don’t like.” If Mr. Obama wants a second term, he’s going to have to convince voters that the first four years have been a success. That’s not something he should be doing at public expense.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.