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Five most absurd ways governments will promote Obamacare

By and   /   July 16, 2013  /   News  /   10 Comments

PRETTY CRAPPY: One state wants to post Obamacare ads in and around portable toilets.

By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org

Like it or not, the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare, for short — is coming.

Enrollment in state exchanges, online marketplaces for purchasing health coverage of applying for government-run programs, opens Oct. 1.

Between now and then, governments across the land will blow millions of dollars in public relations campaigns to reach target audiences and encourage millions of Americans to participate in the overhaul.

Some governments already are looking at how to advertise Obamacare, and some ideas brewing are goofy while others are just awful.

Here are the 5 silliest ways we’ve found that governments will promote Obamacare to the masses:

5. Handing out bottles of sunscreen

Hey, maybe Secretary of State John Kerry can help out with this one.

Connecticut, which is setting up its own state-level health insurance exchanges, will have officials on hand at Sailfest 2013, an annual celebration in the seaport town of New London.  Access Health CT, the name for the state’s exchange, is listed as a corporate sponsor of the event, but the event’s organizers did not return calls seeking information about how much the government entity paid for that sponsorship.

According to the event’s website, Access Health CT will be handing out bottles of sunscreen to the estimated 300,000 attendees at the event.  The bottles will include the phrase “Get Covered,” theoretically in an effort to get the yachting public of the Nutmeg State to check out the exchange website.

I’M ON A BOAT: Connecticut has you covered if you’re a yacht owner who somehow doesn’t have insurance.

Of course, if someone owns a yacht and doesn’t have health insurance, we should seriously question their priorities.

4.      Writing Obamacare into the scripts of television shows

Here’s a really off-the-wall idea, as first reported by Governing Magazine in March:

“Beyond the Beltway, nobody knows anything about the (ACA),” says Kim Holland, executive director of state affairs for the BlueCross/BlueShield Association. “We cannot underestimate the amount of effort it will take to get people to the system.”

So states are getting creative. California has signed a $900,000 contract with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide to market its exchange. Some of the ideas the group has explored are rather nontraditional: How about a reality show chronicling the struggles of people living without health insurance, with the occasional plug for the exchange? What about writing the exchange into plot lines for prime-time shows like “Modern Family” or “Grey’s Anatomy”?

That should make for some thrilling television.  It’s like how everyone talks about the famous episode of Dallas when oil baron J.R. Ewing got …. stuck in line for three hours at the DMV trying to renew his drivers’ license.  I’m sure “Modern Family” will also do an episode in which one of the main characters gets audited by the Internal Revenue Service for not paying the new tax for not having government-approved health insurance?

Hilarity ensues. More Emmy nominations follow.

If there is one show I do want to see take on an Affordable Care Act storyline, it’s South Park.

3. Professional athletes

LeBron James, you’ve just won back-to-back NBA championships.  What are you going to do now?

Well, he might be going to Disney World.  But he won’t be shilling for the federal government.

After a brief foray into the idea of using professional athletes to promote Obamacare and its health insurance exchanges, the Obama administration pulled the plug.  As Florida Watchdog’s Will Patrick reported last month, the government-led advertising blitz was the result of pressure to turn public opinion and enroll the initially projected 7 million to 8 million participants in the all-important state insurance exchanges before the deadline on March 31, 2014 — a tall order.

The administration also approached the National Football League, but you won’t see Chad Ocho-Cinco celebrating his next touchdown by holding up a sign telling fans to sign up for the exchanges.  The NFL backed out of the deal – after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said they were “enthusiastically engaged” – because of concerns about negative backlash on the league’s popularity.

2. Hipsters with guitars

You have to see this one to believe it.  Because, unlike some other entries on this list, this actually became a reality in Oregon.

[youtube Xv2UUcXCo9g]

As Shelby Sebens of Northwest Watchdog pointed out last week, the ads do very little to promote the health care law.  In fact, it seems more like a tourism promotion video for the Beaver State than an honest attempt to inform residents about the most significant change to federal entitlement policy in more than 40 years.

The state will continue its hipster-based advertising policy by adding promotions for Obamacare to the outside of coffee cups.

And if you’re taking health care advice from a guitar-strumming hipster …. well, good luck to you.

1.       Washington (state) portable toilets

Not to be outdone by their neighbor to the south, the state of Washington is considering plastering advertisements for their state-level health exchanges on the fronts of portable toilets at music festivals.

From the Washington Post:

“You’re talking about a high degree of skepticism,” said Michael Marchand, who runs communications for the WA HealthPlanFinder, Washington’s marketplace. “There’s a lot of ‘I don’t understand what this is and why it’s important’ or ‘I don’t understand why there’s a good return on investment when I could be getting the next Radiohead album off iTunes.’ It’s totally understandable. I get that.”

Marchand has been thinking up all sorts of ways to make sure young people hear about the new health program. Perhaps in music-heavy Washington state, it’s no surprise that his thoughts have gravitated toward outreach at concerts and music festivals.

“We’ve talked about everything we could use, even whether we could do some branding on porta-potties,” he said. “I want to sponsor charging stations, too. Talk about a captive audience. They’re standing there, charging their iPhones.”

Some critics of Obamacare have suggested it will turn health care into something resembling the process of going to the DMV, but this metaphor might be even better.  Because when I think “easy, clean and healthy,” I definitely picture a portable toilet at an outdoor music festival.

That reminds me, I have to get the new Radiohead album off iTunes.

Contact Eric Boehm at [email protected]

Watchdog.org’s Dustin Hurst contributed to this post. 


Eric Boehm was a national regulatory reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • HolyCowRUKiddingme

    If it was that good –

    They wouldn’t have to “sell” it

    What a disaster this is!

  • Worst waste of money: Using our taxdollars to OPPOSE ObamaCare. Rick Perry in Texas has wasted nearly $3 million opposing it, Greg Abbot another $2 million.

    Meanwhile, as of today, more than 51 million Americans now have insurance and better care because of ObamaCare, including millions of young people out of college, but lacking health care from their jobs.

    Health care inflation has plunged from 20% annually in 2010 to 4% annually in 2012. Influenza inoculations prevent deaths.

    Advertising in portable toilets? Beats turning Texas into a large portable toilet by opposing ObamaCare and killing thousands.

  • If it weren’t good, opponents wouldn’t have to make stuff up to oppose it. A whole lie is a whole lie, you know?

    See “Making stuff up to complain about”: http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/obamacare-making-stuff-up-to-complain-about/

  • Ralph Nessler

    Instead of advertising on portable toilets, they should consider advertising directly on the toilet paper in the toilets. That would get the message acrosss.

  • Susan M. VerHalen

    I would much rather see money spent to get rid of it, than support it! It is no good for anyone! It will cost everyone 2-3 times more than they spend on it now! Those who overuse it will have to spend more. If you are a minimal user, it may benefit you more, but remains to be seen. Incredible waste of money, and keeps more people from getting full-time employment which they need to qualify for help in paying for their Obamacare. It is an endless cycle of offense that keeps on spreading the misery to all.

  • Easy to say, but I don’t think you’ve got an accurate set of facts.

    1. If you’ve got insurance now, there’s no change. Since health care cost inflation is now so low, the annual massive increases most of us have seen should at least slow down. ObamaCare requires insurance companies to refund money they collect that they don’t spend on health care as promised. Last year millions of Americans got refunds.

    2. Already health care cost inflation has been deflated massively. So we’re seeing reducing costs, instead of increasing costs. This is a different problem, but it directly refutes the claim that ObamaCare will drive costs up.

    3. Under current law, employers with more than 50 employees must provide insurance to full-time employees. Under ObamaCare, it’s exactly the same. If some employer is cutting employees, he’s an idiot, and/or he has a lousy accountant. It won’t save him any money.

    4. If an individual must purchase insurance, and cannot afford it, ObamaCare subsidizes it, with the savings from slashing the bureaucracy that was built up to deny care. Prior to 2011, fully $1 out of every $4 spent on “health care” was spent on the bureaucratic mechanisms to deny health care to anyone without insurance. Now that’s gone — an immediate influx of 25% “found money” in the health care system.

    5. Several states have already implemented the tougher part of ObamaCare, setting up insurance exchanges to offer policies to people who don’t get insurance at work. In most cases, insurance companies provide the insurance in these exchanges, and they offer bids to the states to get in. In California, for example, the exchange is ready to go on October 1. Insurance costs are lower than policies to individuals now, and about 20% to 30% lower than California estimated they’d be.

    6. The sensible mandates for insurance to cover preventive care should lower costs. The offering of inoculations with no co-pay alone could pay for the entire system — and that is already in effect. Last year influenza hospitalizations and deaths were down significantly, suggesting that ObamaCare is already lowering costs and saving lives.

    Can you explain why you think ObamaCare would prevent anyone from getting full-time employment? I don’t see any logical path to get there. Companies who can’t afford insurance plans get massive tax credits to offset costs. In some cases, it would probably help employers to have a healthier workforce.

    Exactly how would ObamaCare prevent people from getting jobs?

  • The Oregon plan was set up by Oregon several years ago, before ObamaCare. It’s been working well.

    So, isn’t your attempt to ridicule it a bit off-the-mark? For Oregon, their plan has increased health insurance coverage, reduced health care costs, and saved lives.

    Better living at less cost — isn’t that good?

  • Dcp5674

    Best place is on the porta-potty…….tear it up and throw it down the toilet. Just think of all the papers that playful teens will rip off the potties and plaster all over. Just more pieces of garbage like the bill itself.

  • Tabitha C.

    You are mistaken.
    1. I have insurance now–and there have been MASSIVE changes. I have NEVER reached my deductible and have NEVER received a refund. I’m required to have a health risk assessment, or pay an even larger percent of the portion that I pay. The health risk assessment is delivered by a group of NURSES that I have to talk to about how to have a healthier life. Then, I have to make an action plan on how to be healthier. This is an INTRUSION on my personal life. I have an actual DOCTOR that I talk to about my health. She is not concerned, but the nurses are.
    2. My former doctor is “retiring” from the practicing of medicine BECAUSE of Obamacare. Of course doctors should make a substantial amount of money AND we should get to choose our doctors. Government intervention, in the form of HMOs, screwed that up a long time ago.
    3. This is simply NOT true.

  • 1. Refunds don’t come if you don’t hit your deductible. Happy you’re so healthy.

    2. Health risk assessment is required by your insurance company, not ObamaCare.

    3. Your doctor’s choice is unfortunate — he probably doesn’t know the difference between your private insurance and ObamaCare, either. Isn’t it interesting that people who seem so smart can be so dumb, sometimes?

    Regret you think health care is an intrusion into your life. With luck, it will be an intrusion you’ll have to endure for many more years.