Republicans are criticizing the Department of Health and Human Services for signing a $20 million contract with a public relations firm to educate Americans about the preventive health benefits included in the Affordable Care Act. The campaign — mandated by the law — “must describe the importance of prevention while also explaining preventive benefits provided by the healthcare law,” essentially informing the public about the availability of preventive services without additional co-pays.
The GOP touted the benefits of preventive medicine before Obama signed health reform into law and claimed that it could help lower the nation’s skyrocketing health care costs. But they’re now denouncing this campaign as an “unconstitutional” “propaganda” effort:
— SARAH PALIN: “This is one of the stupidest things I’ve heard coming out of the Obama administration. Not only is this, of course, pending in court, and I think it will be deemed unconstitutional, but this is a propaganda piece, which I think violates many of the procurement laws and other laws applicable to government contracts. This is propaganda. It’s just promoting ‘ObamaCare.'” [Fox News, 5/22/2012]
— JOHN MCCAIN: “Outrageous waste of taxpayer $ to promote #Obamacare – ‘HHS signs $20M PR contract to promote healthcare law’ [Twitter, 5/22/2012]
— ROY BLUNT: “It’s unacceptable that Pres Obama intends to waste $20M on the taxpayer’s dime to sell U.S. on unpopular #ObamaCare” [Twitter, 5/22/2012]
— RON JOHNSON: “$20M for marketing #ObamaCare? This is a wasteful & inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars.” [Twitter, 5/22/2012]
President George W. Bush also used federal funds to promote the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act (MMA), which established the existing prescription drug benefit. In that case, however, an investigation by the Government Accountability Office and HHS’s own inspector General concluded that the federally funded campaign was “misleading” and “may also have illegally used public money to make what in effect were fake news reports about the law that did amount to propaganda.”
In February of 2004, the administration distributed brochures and launched a $12 million radio, television, and Internet ad campaign to promote the Medicare reforms. “We’re going to provide seniors with straight answers,” said then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. “We’re going to let them know what benefits are coming and when.” Critics charged that the ads were misleading and some stations even stopped showing the spots.
In 2009, the GOP also defended Humana’s alleged use of federal dollars and data to send deceptive brochures warning Medicare customers that health reform will cut “important benefits and services.” Republicans rallied behind the insurer and accused Democrats of “trying to keep seniors in the dark about the consequences of congressional Democrats’ costly government-run health care bills.” But now they’re trying to undermine a campaign that will shine a light on prevention. Perhaps they’re worried that the more Americans learn about the law, the more they’ll like it.
The Congressional Research Service tells ThinkProgress that in FY2006, the Administration (through CMS) requested $154.3 million for the National Medicare & You Education Program (NMEP) for MMA education and outreach activities.