Health care law opponents dominate advertising wars

Fredreka Schouten, USA TODAY 5:58 p.m. EDT July 10, 2013


WASHINGTON — Opponents of the 2010 health care law have out-spent supporters by nearly 5-1 on the airwaves — as conservatives seek to cast doubts about its effects and pledge to keep it at the forefront of federal, state and local races, an analysis shows.

Critics of the Affordable Care Act spent at least $385 million from March 2010, when Congress enacted the sweeping health care measure, through the end of last month, according to an analysis of TV advertising nationwide by Kantar Media.

The biggest spender among opponents: Crossroads GPS, a political advocacy group affiliated with Republican strategist Karl Rove. It pumped at least $40 million into advertising that mentioned the law. Backers, led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spent roughly $78 million.

Kantar’s Campaign Media Analysis Group predicts spending on the law will hit $1 billion by its fifth anniversary in 2015, according to the analysis released this week.

“There’s been no other law we can think of that has been the focus of this much ad spending” immediately following its passage, said Elizabeth Wilner, vice president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group. “The gap between enactment and implementation has created an opening for this to continue to be a point of attack for its critics.”

A new round of advertising hit the airwaves this week.

Americans for Prosperity, a non-profit advocacy group co-founded by billionaire industrialist David Koch, launched a $700,000 TV advertising campaign, largely in Virginia and Ohio, that features a pregnant mother worried that the law will restrict her family’s health care choices and drive up premiums.

The law’s proponents also are gearing up to defend the law and encourage uninsured individuals to begin seeking coverage in new state health insurance exchanges. Enrollment in the exchanges begins Oct. 1.

Organizing for Action, an advocacy group linked to President Obama, released an ad this week touting the law’s elimination of lifetime caps for health-insurance benefits. The ad, featuring Phoenix mother Stacey Lihn, whose young daughter has undergone multiple surgeries for a heart defect, is part of what the group says is a series of commercials over the summer that will cost a total of “seven figures.”

“When people understand the concrete examples of what this means for them, they like the law; they are excited about the law and they want to tell people about it,” said Jon Carson, the group’s executive director.

On Wednesday, two large health care companies — Walgreens and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association — rolled out a new website to encourage enrollment.

“The overwhelming majority of the public is tired of the political back-and-forth contentiousness and really just wants to know how the Affordable Care Act will help them in the future,” said Ron Pollack, who is executive director of Families USA and a founder of Enroll America, a non-profit group promoting the law.

He said the groups have raised millions to promote enrollment and will target their efforts on counties with big populations of uninsured residents. They include Los Angeles County, home to about 2.2 million people who lack health care coverage — or nearly 5% of the nation’s 46 million uninsured.

The advertising flurry comes as Republican leaders on Capitol Hill vow new attempts to roll back key provisions of the law — emboldened by the Obama administration’s surprise decision last week to impose a one-year delay on the mandate that larger employers provide insurance to their employees or face penalties.

The law “is never going to be ready for prime time,” Senate Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on Fox News this week. “We need a permanent delay.”

In one sign of how volatile the issue has become, the National Football League recently declined to become involved in promoting the law. The league’s decision came after two leading Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, warned the NFL and other professional sports leagues that promoting the health care exchanges would “risk damaging” their “apolitical” brands.

Kantar’s analysis shows the issue also has reached contests for local offices that have little role in the law’s future.

Last month, the Republican State Leadership Committee ran ads that sought to tie the law to Democrat James Kay during a special election in Kentucky for a state House seat. Kay prevailed in the three-way contest, allowing his party to retain its 10-seat advantage in the chamber.

Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Dan Logsdon said voters are “starting to block out” the health care attack ads. “Folks can distinguish between sending someone to the state Legislature … and supporting Obamacare,” he said. “People aren’t stupid.”

RSLC’s president, Chris Jankowski, said his group will press the issue in legislative races in Kentucky next year — a state Obama lost by more than 22 percentage points in 2012 — and other state and local contests across the country in the coming years.

“We believe there are gains to be made for Republicans in Kentucky,” he said. “We think President Obama definitely is going to be an issue at the state level in Kentucky in general, and we think the Affordable Care Act, specifically, is going to be front and center as it begins to affect the public more directly.”

Contributing: Kelly Kennedy

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Brace for super-stripped-down online health insurance exchange

July 14, 2013 9:07 am by Morgan, David | MedCityNews (Orginally posted on Reuters)


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With time running out, U.S. officials are struggling to cope with the task of launching the new online health insurance exchanges at the heart of President Barack Obama’s signature health reforms by an October 1 deadline.

The White House, and federal agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), must ensure that working marketplaces open for enrollment in all 50 states in less than 80 days, and are responding to mounting pressure by concentrating on three essential areas that will determine whether the most critical phase of Obamacare succeeds or fails.

“The administration right now is in a triage mode. Seriously, they do not have the resources to implement all of the provisions on time,” Washington and Lee University professor Timothy Jost, a healthcare reform expert and advocate, told an oversight panel in the U.S. House of Representatives last week.

Current and former administration officials, independent experts and business representatives say the three priorities are the creation of an online portal that will make it easy for consumers to compare insurance plans and enroll in coverage; the capacity to effectively process and deliver government subsidies that help consumers pay for the insurance; and retention of the law’s individual mandate, which requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance when Obama’s healthcare reform law comes into full force in 2014.

Measures deemed less essential, such as making larger employers provide health insurance to their full-time workers next year or face fines, and requiring exchanges to verify the health insurance and income status of applicants, have already been postponed or scaled back.

“The closer you get to the actual launch, the more you focus on what is essential versus what could be second-order issues,” said a former administration official. “That concentrates the mind in a different kind of way, and that’s what’s happening here.”

But the risk of failure in the form of major delays is palpable, given the administration’s limited staff and financial resources, as well as the stubborn political opposition of Republicans, who have denied new money for the effort in Congress and prevented dozens of states from cooperating with initiatives that offer subsidized health coverage to millions of lower income uninsured people.

Any further delay could help Republicans make Obamacare’s troubles a focus of their campaign in next year’s congressional midterm elections and in the 2016 presidential race.

HHS denies that its strategy has changed and insists that implementation continues to meet the milestones laid out by planners 18 months ago.

“All of the systems are exactly where we want them to be today. They will be ready to perform fully on October 1,” said Mike Hash, director of the HHS Office of Health Reform.

White House officials acknowledge the approach of the open enrollment deadline has put a greater emphasis on priorities. They describe the strategy as a “smart, adaptive policy” and assert that delayed or scaled-back regulations demonstrate better policy decisions or flexibility with stakeholders, rather than a need to minimize distractions.


Advocates point out that the reform, formally titled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and informally known as Obamacare, constitutes the most sweeping healthcare legislation since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, large successful government programs for the elderly and the low income that also faced fierce political opposition when they were created in 1965. Both required years of work after their launch to refine implementation.

The administration has already delayed or scaled back at least half a dozen health reform measures since last year. These include regulations involving star quality ratings for insurance company plans, the choice of insurance plans for small-business employees and a requirement that state Medicaid agencies notify individuals of their eligibility for federal assistance.

Other efforts that could still be delayed include deadlines for some health insurers to get their plans certified by HHS as well as requirements for how the insurance exchanges provide customer service.

House Speaker John Boehner and other House Republican leaders, warning of a “train wreck”, have called on Obama to defer an essential task: the individual mandate, which requires people to have insurance coverage in 2014 or face penalties that begin modestly, but rise sharply by 2016.

But experts say it is the other essential tasks – establishing the high-tech capabilities necessary to process government insurance subsidies and create online shopping and enrollment for consumers – that could be most vulnerable with such a compressed timetable.

“The biggest hurdle is to get the systems up and running,” said one health insurance official. “Nothing’s happened so far that prevents you from being up and running on October 1. But there’s virtually no margin for error.”

The administration is working according to an ambitious schedule for testing a technology hub and its ability to transfer consumer data on health coverage, income, tax credits and other topics between federal agencies, insurance companies and states. The hub is already exchanging data between the necessary agencies.

A report from Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms says state-run exchanges are on track for a successful October 1 launch and have exceeded federal minimum requirements in some cases.

Failure to have adequate systems in place by September 4, when HHS is due to give insurers final notice about which health plans are qualified to be sold on 34 state exchanges run by the federal government, could delay open enrollment by days or weeks but still allow the law’s core reform provisions to take effect on January 1, experts said.

Insurers will have several days in August to review plan data as it would be presented to prospective enrollees in side-by-side comparisons online. The administration also needs to test the system with a wider audience than the IT experts working on the exchanges to make sure they are consumer-friendly.

Michael Marchand, spokesman for Washington’s Health Benefit Exchange, said the state’s online marketplace had conducted frequent tests with the federal data hub, which had worked well so far. But any last-minute changes to the government’s requirements to its operations could throw a wrench into the IT system, he said.

“If you start adding or removing lines of code it could bring the whole thing down,” he said. “As you add or take away pieces, you have to re-test from the beginning.”

(Additional reporting by Patrick Temple-West in Washington and Sharon Begley in New York; Editing by Michele Gershberg, Martin Howell)

Copyright (2013) Thomson Reuters.

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