Con­trac­tors cash in on Oba­macare PR blitz

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JIM MCELHATTON

The fed­eral Oba­macare web­site has earned plenty of at­ten­tion in re­cent weeks, but prob­a­bly not the kind ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials en­vi­sioned when they hired pub­lic re­la­tions firms to help pro­mote Health­Care.gov.

The over­all Oba­macare pub­lic re­la­tions push be­gan years ago, rang­ing from con­tracts for tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to ma­jor firms to a sub­con­tract for about $1 mil­lion to a me­dia-buy­ing firm with lit­tle or no track record of fed­eral con­tract­ing whose founder has deep Demo­cratic ties.

Fed­eral records show D.C.-based Buy­ing Time LLC won a $1.1 mil­lion award through the Re­cov­ery Act to con­duct a “paid online cam­paign de­signed to drive con­sumers who need help with insurance is­sues to the Con­sumer As­sis­tance Pro­gram (CAP) Map page on Health­Care.gov.”

Nei­ther the com­pany’s founder nor ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials would dis­cuss why the firm was hired.

The com­pany’s founder, Cathie Her­rick, a vet­eran me­dia buyer who, along with her firm, has worked with the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee and Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns, con­firmed her com­pany re­ceived a sub­con­tract but re­ferred ques­tions about its work to the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Med­i­caid Ser­vices (CMS).

The prime con­trac­tor on the award, Ketchem Inc., like­wise re­ferred ques­tions to CMS.

A CMS spokes­woman ini­tially said agency of­fi­cials were look­ing into ques­tions from The Wash­ing­ton Times about how and why the com­pany was hired. But of­fi­cials failed to re­spond de­spite re­peated fol­low-up in­quiries span­ning sev­eral days.

Pete Sepp of the Na­tional Tax­pay­ers Union said that it’s hardly un­usual any­more for the gov­ern­ment to spend “big bucks” on out­side pub­lic re­la­tions and ad­ver­tis­ing firms to pro­mote pres­i­den­tial ini­tia­tives, not­ing that Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion like­wise used tax dol­lars to tout the ar­rival of the Medi­care pre­scrip­tion drug ben­e­fit.

“How ironic that while the Af­ford­able Care Act is be­ing blamed for slow­ing job cre­ation out­side the Belt­way, the law is of­fer­ing plenty of job op­por­tu­ni­ties to firms in­side the Belt­way will­ing to pro­mote it,” Mr. Sepp said.

The sub­con­tract to Buy­ing Time rep­re­sents just a small slice of the tens of mil­lions of dol­lars be­ing spent by the ad­min­is­tra­tion to tout Oba­macare. It’s un­clear how much if any of the sub­con­tract to Buy­ing Time was in­voiced, but project re­ports say the con­tract work in­volved “paid and earned me­dia cam­paign to in­crease aware­ness of and en­roll­ment in the Pre-Ex­ist­ing Con­di­tion Insurance Plan.”

Over­all, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials say, out­reach ef­forts are im­por­tant to en­sure Amer­i­cans know about their op­tions un­der Oba­macare. Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Kath­leen Se­be­lius said at a Se­nate hear­ing that she was “in­cred­i­bly dis­ap­pointed” that her bud­get re­quests for more out­reach re­sources were de­nied.

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