Get Ready for the Obamacare Ad Blitz

Everyone involved with the law is planning to flood the airwaves this year.

Tourists watch on a Jumbotron in Times Square in New York as US President Barack Obama takes the oath of office during the 57th Presidential Inauguration ceremonial swearing-in at the US Capitol on January 21, 2013 in Washington, DC
National Journal
Sam Baker
Jan. 3, 2014, 4 a.m.

If you think you’ve heard an aw­ful lot about Obama­care over the past three years, you ain’t seen noth­ing yet.

This year will see a massive surge in TV ad­vert­ising about the law — first from its sup­port­ers, and then from its crit­ics.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and its al­lies are set to spend tens of mil­lions of dol­lars on ad­vert­ising as well as in-per­son out­reach, most of it tar­get­ing roughly 10 states where es­pe­cially large num­bers of people are un­in­sured. 

For the most part, these cam­paigns will en­cour­age people to en­roll, rather than try­ing to sell the law polit­ic­ally. Al­though Obama­care still polls poorly, sup­port­ers firmly be­lieve the an­swer is to show that it’s work­ing — and that means get­ting people in the door.

The Health and Hu­man Ser­vices De­part­ment has re­portedly re­served at least $12 mil­lion worth of TV ad time for spots pro­mot­ing the health care law and en­cour­aging people to en­roll. Out­side groups will spend even more.

HHS didn’t use much of its TV time in 2013, in part be­cause it had al­ways planned to fo­cus most of its re­sources to­ward the end of the en­roll­ment win­dow, and also be­cause it didn’t want to dir­ect people to an en­roll­ment site that wasn’t work­ing. But now that Health­ is largely fixed, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fii­cials say they’re ready to “ramp up” the en­roll­ment cam­paign over the first quarter of this year.

En­roll Amer­ica, an um­brella group with close ties to the White House that was formed solely to pro­mote en­roll­ment, has raised more than $27 mil­lion for ad­vert­ising and grass­roots out­reach over the next three months. In ad­di­tion, lib­er­al ad­vocacy groups such as Or­gan­iz­ing for Ac­tion and Amer­ic­ans United for Change are already gath­er­ing pos­it­ive an­ec­dotes from people who have gained cov­er­age, part of a co­ordin­ated push to pro­mote the law through March. 

The ad­min­is­tra­tion will also have some help from the in­sur­ance in­dustry. In­di­vidu­al in­surers have already star­ted ad­vert­ising the spe­cif­ic products they’re selling through the law’s new mar­ket­places, and large plans have also con­trib­uted to En­roll Amer­ica.

An ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said the in­surers’ ad­vert­ising drive is not only a re­flec­tion of the fact that they want new cus­tom­ers, but also a sign that the in­dustry be­lieves early prob­lems with the en­roll­ment pro­cess have been worked out. “They have a sense of con­fid­ence now that’s be­ing re­flec­ted in ad­vert­ising,” the of­fi­cial said dur­ing a re­cent brief­ing for re­port­ers.

The White House and its al­lies will fo­cus most of their money on a hand­ful of mar­kets, tar­get­ing places with large num­bers of un­in­sured res­id­ents as well as un­co­oper­at­ive state gov­ern­ments.

Cali­for­ni­ans, for ex­ample, won’t see much En­roll Amer­ica ad­vert­ising, be­cause the state is spend­ing its own money to pro­mote its ex­change. But states like Texas and Flor­ida, with hard-line Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernors who have res­isted all things Obama­care, will see a de­luge of out­side in­flu­ence.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion and its al­lies have mil­lions of dol­lars to spend and not all that much time to spend it. Their ad cam­paigns will run through the end of March, the dead­line to pur­chase cov­er­age for this year. The biggest push will come close to the fi­nal dead­line, when the ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­pects a surge in en­roll­ment.

The 2014 cam­paign sea­son — and its ad­vert­ising — will be heat­ing up just a few months later. Re­pub­lic­ans and con­ser­vat­ives are con­fid­ent that the botched rol­lout of Health­ and the up­roar over can­celed in­sur­ance policies will make a po­tent at­tack against vul­ner­able Sen­ate Demo­crats.

Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity, the con­ser­vat­ive ad­vocacy group tied to the wealthy Koch broth­ers, launched a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar round of anti-Obama­care ads just this week. The spots tar­get three po­ten­tially vul­ner­able Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bents — Sens. Kay Hagan of North Car­o­lina, Mary Landrieu of Louisi­ana, and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hamp­shire.

AFP alone spent some $16 mil­lion on anti-Obama­care ads in 2012, and there are no signs that con­ser­vat­ives and of­fi­cial Re­pub­lic­an com­mit­tees will fo­cus on health care any less this year as they fight for con­trol of the Sen­ate. Landrieu, Hagan, Shae­heen and Sens. Mark Pry­or, D-Ark. and Mark Be­gich, D-Alaska, are fa­cing voters this year for the first time since vot­ing for the health care law.