A $17.6M assignment handed to Porter Novelli in late April by the Dept. of Health and Human Services to promote the benefits available to Americans under the Affordable Care Act is the latest in a long line of political PR footballs in recent years.
CMS, as the Medicare agency is known, issued a task order to PN on April 30 for the maligned assignment, which the federal agency describes as “promoting the overall awareness of preventative benefits” with a goal to “target specific segments of the population to educate and raise awareness of benefits that can improve their health.”
Press reports this week lauding a $20M PR campaign to defend “Obamacare” molded the advertising-heavy initiative into a political football.
On the right, where most of the criticism is originating, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was among other members of Congress to criticize the PR pact. “There is no justification for wasting $20 million in taxpayer dollars on an advertising blitz for the President’s health care spending law,” Portman said in a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius which he released to the press. “With Washington nearly $16 trillion dollars in debt, the American taxpayers should not be asked to fund ad campaigns defending a law that only deepens the spending hole we’re in.”
CMS in early March put out the campaign for bids among its five pre-qualified agencies. Within the expansive Affordable Care Act are provisions to educate the public about changes and expanded benefits available under its reforms.
Another HHS RFP, for the ongoing promotion of electronic health records, was released earlier this month. Ketchum, which has a handful of contracts with HHS and like PN is owned by Omnicom, has worked the e-health record PR beat for the past few years.
Government PR contracts have been a popular target of Congressman and White House critics over the past decade. Ketchum was dragged through the Armstrong Williams controversy over a PR pact with the Dept. of Education in 2004 and a Pentagon program to dispatch retired military officials for media appearance to promote Bush administration policies was the subject of a General Accountability Office probe.