On Friday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) sent a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius objecting to the use of government funds to promote California's Health Benefit Exchange through entertainment media, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/28).
Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide has received a $900,000 contract to promote California's exchange.
About the Exchange
The federal health reform law requires states to launch online insurance marketplaces by 2014. The California exchange primarily will serve individuals and small businesses.
About 4.4 million Californians are expected to use the exchange by the end of 2016. Exchange officials plan to open registration in October 2013.
Details of Promotional Campaign
The exchange's public relations plan states, "A number of popular television programs and personalities such as 'Grey's Anatomy,' 'Modern Family,' 'The Biggest Loser,' 'Dr. Oz' and others will be approached and pitched to incorporate story lines or mentions of health care reform that would reinforce campaign messages."
The plan states, "In addition, we would explore approaching select reality television producers to create a new reality television program revealing the trials and tribulations of families living without medical coverage" (California Healthline, 9/18).
Details of Letter
The lawmakers wrote, "Americans' hard-earned money should not be taken by government to subsidize Hollywood and insert propaganda into popular culture," adding, "It should be going toward ensuring the cost of health care is being lowered for all Americans."
They called on HHS to improve its oversight of health care reform grants to states.
According to the letter, the Affordable Care Act "is virtually silent on how the funds are to be used and grants HHS unrestricted access to taxpayer dollars to fund these grants." The lawmakers added, "Furthermore, HHS has failed to provide substantive guidance to states on how the money is to be used."
In addition, the lawmakers asked HHS to release a list of all contracts that states have initiated for the development of exchanges ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/28).