News broke this week that insurers plan to spend more than $500 million in coming months to market the healthcare plans available on the Obamacare exchanges. This will most certainly usher in a welcome change in tone in Obamacare advertising, which up until now has consisted mostly of semi-tasteless (and at times, offensive) ads aimed mainly at signing up the under-30 demographic.
Ever since their debut, the ads have stoked controversy, including the holiday-themed ads released this week. But despite the numerous labeling and disclaimer rules that apply to private businesses, nothing about the ads would tell you your very valuable tax dollars paid for them. In fact, when the ads first launched, many thought they were conservative parodies rather than serious efforts at drawing in new insurance customers. With insurers breaking into the market, it’s more important than ever to delineate which ads are supported through your tax dollars and which aren’t.
While individuals of different political persuasions may react differently to the Obamacare ads, the lack of transparency in advertising and image crafting seems to be a common cause of chagrin amongst conservatives and left-leaning media outlets alike. Several recent stories have bemoaned the Orwellian image control put forward by the administration, with the White House photographer being granted exclusive access to important moments while the White House Press Corps is kept out. Though the incidents are unrelated, the image control and lack of transparency in branding efforts is problematic for those concerned with an honest picture of their government.
Fortunately, earlier in the year, Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., introduced legislation to combat part of the problem by requiring that any advertisements funded with taxpayer dollars come with a disclaimer stating as much. This week, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., plans to introduce a companion bill in his chamber. The legislation would require print ads to have a readable disclaimer, while radio advertising must include a statement that the ad was funded by the federal government.
The House legislation is still in committee, but hopefully Senate action will spur the Republican-led House to act more quickly. President Obama has repeatedly promised a more transparent federal government, and transparency in ad spending should be a natural outgrowth of this process. With the American people still by and large opposed to Obamacare, the opaque answers regarding sign-ups (but with promises for more thorough data in the future!), and ever-changing deadlines, a bit more transparency in the law certainly couldn’t hurt its image.
If the American people can’t know who is receiving taxpayer-funded insurance subsidies or even who is responsible for most of the White House’s branding, they at least should see how well their dollars are being spent attracting those interested in “brosurance.” I’m sure it will make them proud.