By Tori Richards | Watchdog.org
Facing a $78 million budget shortfall, California’s Obamacare exchange has spent $1.37 million to fund a campaign with an outreach video featuring exercise guru Richard Simmons gyrating on the floor and hugging a contortionist who is kneeling with his buttocks in the air.
The “Tell a Friend — Get Covered” campaign by Covered California features other celebrities Olivia Wilde, comic Billy Eirchner, Fran Drescher and Tatyana Ali. The centerpiece of the effort was an eight-hour live web stream that ran on Jan. 16.
None of the celebrities were paid for their work, Covered California said.
State Sen. Ted Gaines, a Northern California Republican, fired off a terse letter to Covered California Director Peter Lee demanding to know why he would launch such a campaign at taxpayer expense. The exchange likely will face a $78 million shortfall during the next fiscal year, said Gaines, who is vice chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Insurance.
He singled out the web stream for special scorn.
“On first review, this long advertisement seems a wasteful, unserious and insulting effort, especially when viewed against the backdrop of at least a million Californians having their health coverage … (canceled) as a result of Covered California’s actions,” Gaines wrote in his Jan. 18 letter. “I question whether this is the time to pour tax dollars into what appears to be an ineffective and embarrassing quarter-day long marketing effort.”
Through the end of last year, Covered California had enrolled 500,108 people. Its 2012-13 budget was $366.3 million, with $74.2 million going toward public relations, according to a legislative report dated November 2013.
Covered California’s 2013-14 budget increased by nearly $33 million with public relations funding going up by $28 million, the report said.
Gaines said in an interview that he doesn’t know where the money will come from to fund the deficit.
“About 900,000 people in California had coverage canceled and were forced to go into the Affordable Care Act,” Gaines said. “They are paying an extra 200, 300, 400 bucks a month. More people are cancelled than actually have insurance through Covered California. Then we see these stupid commercials using taxpayer money and not even focused on the right demographic.”
Instead, Covered California should be focusing on the large Latino population, which traditionally has been under insured, he said.
Director Lee defended the campaign, saying he is utilizing free social media to get the word out — a preferred method among younger consumers, the so-called millennials who are the target audience.
“Covered California’s programs such as Tell A Friend — Get Covered feature content that resonates among millennials and that can be spread by millennials to their friends and loved ones,” Lee said in a statement. “Millennials are not only our key audience, they also are our ambassadors in spreading the word about Covered California.”
The Jan. 16 web video was filmed at a Los Angeles studio and included skits, tips and interviews. During the segment, Simmons — wearing red tights and a black sequined tank top — was joined by a contortionist for a dance competition. Part of Simmons’ routine involved writhing on the ground and peeking through his split legs.
All the while, a DJ played dance music and the program’s hostess sang, “Get covered, hashtag, Uh huh,” and “This is beautiful … I feel inspired to tell my friends to sign up online. That was beautiful, Richard!”
Up next was Simmons’ challenger, a contortionist with hip hop moves prompting Simmons to quip, “I’m going to get sick. Is there a vomit bag like on an airplane?” The pair finished on the floor with the contortionist on his stomach and Simmons nestled near the man’s buttocks.
Gaines called the video “an embarrassment.” He told Lee that he wanted to know the cost breakdown between state and federal dollars to pay for it and whether there was a plan to gauge its value by monitoring the enrollment rate.
He also asked to see the exchange’s entire marketing plan including cost and performance as a “benefit to taxpayers.”
So far, he hasn’t received a response. If Lee ignores his request, Gaines said he would consider issuing a formal demand through his senate committee or holding a hearing.
Lee considers the event a success.
“The campaign has generated and continues to generate substantial social media distribution and wide press coverage,” Lee said.
Contact Tori Richards at tori@email@example.com or on twitter @newswriter2.
Editor’s Note: This story first appeared at Calwatchdog.com
- Obamacare compliance means less money for TN service agencies
- The mystery of Obamacare spending in Arkansas
- Obamacare raises questions for MD small business owners
- Kansas official on Obamacare: ‘Let someone else be the guinea pig’
- Obamacare insurance marketplace has plenty of kinks on first day
- OR’s Obamacare insurance marketplace hits technological snag
- Fail: Day 1 of the New Mexico Obamacare rollout
- Senator asks: Do you want this dysfunctional government taking over health care?
- Jobs, coverage at risk with Obamacare, MN union health official says
- Oregon’s Obamacare ads resemble middle school art
- VIDEO: Obamacare vs Affordable Care Act: Comedy triumphs in court of confusion
- Patience is key to navigating Illinois’ Obamacare marketplace
- Hawaii residents, lawmakers frustrated with health connector glitches
- Healthy young, key to Obamacare, aren’t buying it
- NM’s health exchange tries to lure ‘young invincibles’
- Obama drama: Senator blames governor for big rate hikes
- Progressive group navigates Oregon students through Obamacare
- Maddening: Trying to log onto federal health care site
- You know that one guy who successfully signed up for Obamacare? He didn’t
- What’s wrong? It’s been a week, and Obamacare website still not working
- HHS Secretary Sebelius back in FL after embarrassing Obamacare rollout
- Health centers enroll Floridians in Obamacare as application problems persist
- VIDEO: Stewart skewers Sebelius on Obamacare
- Obamacare effect? 9 companies exit Nebraska’s health insurance market
- Obamacare: Children of undocumented parents face an uncertain future
- Which way do we go? Obamacare navigator registration in TN in question
- NM health exchange tries to ease problems with Obamacare website
- CPA says hype over Obamacare small business tax credit is misleading
- Obamacare navigator under fire for arrest warrant
- Reports of Obamacare fraud emerge in Tennessee
- After two weeks, FL online Obamacare enrollees are hard to find
- Illinois state governor touts 100K Obamacare enrollees, all in Medicaid
- Kansas lawmaker calls for crackdown on Obamacare navigators
- WI health care exchange seeing few getting through
- Hawaii’s Obamacare exchange relaunches with more glitches
- We’ll know next month how many people in NM signed up for Obamacare — maybe
- Zero: Number of Nebraskans Obamacare navigators have signed up
- It took this Delaware woman 11 days to sign up for Obamacare – and she was the first
- How many people have signed up for health insurance in VA? Who knows?
- What else? NM federal health exchange ads stalled due to website problems
- Blue Cross hires temp workers to deal with Obamacare glitches
- If Obamacare is the next Medicare, will physicians leave en masse?
- Three problems that won’t be solved by fixing the Obamacare exchange glitches
- Plenty of Oregonians interested in Obamacare, but none can enroll online
- Criticize this: Obamacare premiums a near match to WI disclosures
- Report: Missourians will see sharp rise in premiums under Obamacare
- Kansas navigators say they’ve enrolled no one in Obamacare
- Obamacare too costly for rich Coloradans, Democrat congressman says
- Study: Kansas premiums to spike following Obamacare rollout
- Hang on to your candy: Creepy Uncle Sam is back
- Obamacare or bust: NM Watchdog turned back again
- Medical journals, experts refute claim that Medicaid cuts ER use
- Arkansas spends $4M on Obamacare ads, wants more
- LOL: In July video, HHS bragged about being ‘on schedule’ with Obamacare
- Illinois uses Day of the Dead to market Obamacare
- Sebelius denies GOP’s Terry ‘unreliable’ Obamacare info
- About 290,000 Washington residents lose health insurance plans
- Broken promise: Obamacare cancels almost 20,000 Kansas health care plans
- Top hospitals opt out of Obamacare
- Obamacare moves to intensive care
- Obamacare provision could lead to more Medicaid fraud
- Obamacare: Religious groups want to ‘move mountains’
- Obamacare hitting Wisconsin residents with double whammy
- Kansas AG: Obamacare threatens consumer privacy
- 1,500 in New Mexico have to move out of the high-risk insurance pool
- Cover Oregon website fiasco creates jobs, but costs millions
- For Florida’s Obamacare small business exchange, it’s crunch time
- Only 877 Wisconsinites have signed up for Obamacare, federal report says
- Just 172 in NM have completed Obamacare applications: ‘Woefully inadequate,’ says NMIX board member
- With only 346 Oklahomans signed up, leaders decry ‘Obamacare debacle’
- Defying Obamacare: ‘Send them the bill,’ NM insurance official says
- Kansas Obamacare enrollment dwarfed by nearly 20,000 cancellations
- Numbers don’t lie: In Illinois, Obamacare means Medicaid
- Wisconsin governor proposes insurance plan to address Obamacare rollout failure
- Tennesseans might know Tuesday if they can keep canceled health insurance
- People demand answers over Oregon’s Obamacare fail
- Calif. says ‘no’ to Obamacare freebies, makes own law
- HI health exchange violates federal law, League of Women Voters say
- Obamacare video winner: ‘Forget about the price tag’
- Harvard study finds ‘striking’ rejection of Obamacare by young Americans
- HI health exchange has signed up 574 people, for about $348,000 apiece
- Are the uninsured getting Obamacare coverage in Illinois?
- Secret Obamacare handbook the feds don’t want you to see is online
- Lost in translation: Once-supportive Hispanics turning backs on Obama, ACA
- HI Obamacare exchange not fiscally sustainable, lawmakers told
- Illinois’ latest Obamacare targets: gold diggers and momma’s boys
- Now Democrats are bashing California’s Obamacare exchange, too
- Obamacare: For $1.37M we get Richard Simmons in lurid web stream
- Obamacare: A welcome mat for IRS horrors
- California senator seeks audit of state Obamacare exchange
- Report: Hawaii ranks worst for Obamacare signups
- CA senator sues Obamacare exchange for causing policy cancellations of 1M
- Failure of Maryland Obamacare exchange could mean higher premiums in North Dakota
- Video: Watch Creepy Uncle Sam make it rain
- Five bright spots surrounding the Obamacare exchange failures
- Obamacare architect admitted in 2012 states without exchanges lose subsidies