Feb. 9, 2016

Health Care Ads Could Pick Up After the Break

The intensifying health care debate is following Members of Congress home to their districts during this week’s recess. A long list of industry and interest groups have taken out advertising spots, are activating grass-roots networks and are planning Member meetings outside the Beltway.

Meanwhile, back inside the Capitol complex, lobbyists and Congressional aides say the week will be filled with important industry and staff-level negotiations that could help shape some of the most controversial aspects of reform.

Several major industry stakeholders, however, will be noticeably absent from the advertising airwaves over the July Fourth recess. Though they will continue to keep in touch with Members through meetings and grass roots, AARP, the American Medical Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Federation of American Hospitals and AdvaMed all say they are sitting out this recess when it comes to advertising campaigns.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America will be running positive ads touting health care reform.

The groups have been holding their fire in response to threats from the staff of Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and White House aides, who have warned that any groups that run ads attacking reform efforts before the bills have been crafted would lose their seats at the bargaining table.

But health care industry insiders and issue-advertising executives say they expect the advocacy ad floodgates to open shortly.

“From here on out, will you be seeing a lot more advertising on the health care front? The answer is yes,” said Mark Goodin of Single Malt Media, a Fairfax, Va.-based film production and issue advocacy firm. “You’re going to see a flow of advertising from here until the final stretch of Congress that will be a flood tide.”

One advertising strategist said that even though interest groups are cognizant of Baucus’ threats, “I don’t think that’s going to stop people” running ads.

Another advertising consultant said it’s just a matter of time before organizations start jumping ship.

“When doctors and hospitals have to confront the possibility of less reimbursements in Medicare, I think that’s when the wheels start coming off the wagon,” this consultant said.

Before that, groups are working in a lower-profile way to get their messages across to Members.

Steve Ubl, CEO of AdvaMed, said his group is eschewing any recess advertising but is doing in-district meetings with Members who sit on the committees of jurisdiction. The group has also started to activate its grass-roots network of more than 350,000 employees nationwide.

“Now that we have a sense of where each of the committees are going on our priority issues, we can direct our grass roots more effectively,” Ubl said, noting that his organization supports the general framework on comparative effectiveness research that Baucus backs.

But his group opposes a measure in the House bill that would allow for different laws in all 50 states on physician payment disclosure. AdvaMed supports federal preemption on that issue.

“We’re going to be consulting with other stakeholders in the process, like the hospitals,” Ubl said. “Whatever happens in the hospital negotiations around reductions will have a significant impact on us. The hospitals buy our products, and if they’re asked to absorb reductions, that will affect us.”

The health insurance companies also have begun energizing their grass roots.

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