CMS May Have Overpaid for Andy Griffith Obamacare Ads

Published May 16, 2011


The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) may have dramatically overpaid for three controversial television ads touting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) during the run-up to the 2010 elections.

The health law changes the plans offered seniors, such as by increasing premiums and limiting access of seniors to the popular Medicare Advantage plans. The advertising, designed to mitigate concerns among seniors, appeared between September and October in 2010.

CMS responded to a Freedom of Information Act request from Americans for Limited Government about the spots produced by the public relations firm Porter Novelli Public Services.

“The production for the three advertisements featuring Andy Griffith cost $404,000. The national advertisement buy for these spots, “1965,” “Music to My Ears,” and “Cozy Chair,” cost $754,000, $1,112,000, and $1,390,000 respectively for a combined buy of $2.78 million for September and October 2010,” the CMS response reads in part. “Mr. Griffith provided his services to the government at no charge pursuant to a gratuitous services agreement.

The billing statement supplied by CMS shows the bulk of the production cost going to unspecified direct costs, however. Porter Novelli also billed more than $50,000 for the labor of their account managers and executives, including firm partners.

CMS referred all additional requests for information from Health Care News to Porter Novelli, who declined to respond.


Production Costs Questioned

David Bossie, president and chairman of the board of Citizens United, said $404,000 was unreasonably high for production costs.

“Part of the production cost would have been paying talent. Andy Griffith would have been that talent. If Andy Griffith would have charged, it would have been taken right off the $404,000,” Bossie said.

But if Griffith in fact donated his time, as CMS claims, the claimed cost for the production is exorbitant, says Bossie.

“That is an outrageous amount of money for three thirty second ads, especially when they are very simple, down-home, straight to camera, on a set that you could literally spend renting less than $10,000,” Bossie said. “$404,000 seems like someone was getting ripped off, or someone was doing the ripping off; I’m not sure which.”

Bossie said the ads were made to convey a positive message and skip over anything negative about Obama’s health insurance reform law.

“Clearly they are trying to use a beloved character, Andy Griffith, someone who has been around Hollywood and part of your average senior American person’s life for their entire life. But $404,000 for three ads is just ludicrous,” Bossie said. “If they were $25,000 each, that would have been fine. Still a little on the high end, but because you’re doing sets, that’s about what it should cost. If Mr. Griffith received no compensation, then the writers, directors, and producers of those three ads are sitting on the beach right now because they didn’t have to work the rest of the year.”


Were Ads Even Necessary?

Jeffrey Anderson, a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, questioned the need for any promotions in the first place.

“The ads mostly express an opinion—one that most Americans don’t share,” Anderson said. “In the ad, they have Andy Griffith say, ‘That new health care law sure sounds good for all of us on Medicare!’ But why is our government using taxpayer money to hire an actor, hand him a script, and have him declare that a highly controversial government program ‘sure sounds good’?

“Griffith says that ‘with the new health-care law, more good things are coming.’ It doesn’t have him say what the Obama administration’s own Medicare chief actuary says, which is that, under ObamaCare, reimbursement rates to Medicare providers would fall below even Medicaid reimbursement rates,” Anderson continued. “The Medicare chief actuary says this could make about 15 percent of hospitals unprofitable and that they therefore ‘might end their participation in the [Medicare] program.'”

Anderson also notes Griffith didn’t mention PPACA’s major cuts to the popular Medicare Advantage program.

“The ads don’t mention that many seniors who like their Medicare Advantage plans won’t be able to keep their Medicare Advantage plans,” Anderson said. “And they don’t talk about how, according to Congressional Budget Office projections, almost half of ObamaCare would be paid for by siphoning money out of Medicare.”


Public Relations or Propaganda?

Bossie said the target audience was seniors looking for reassurance on a confusing issue, who want to believe in someone they trust.

“Obama’s health care message didn’t necessarily have their trust,” Bossie said, and a credible face was needed. “So right out of central casting comes Andy Griffith. He is a beloved national icon and someone whom people his age will feel like they know and trust.”

Bossie believes running the ads just before the midterm elections was no accident.

“Clearly the Obama administration, which controlled the production and timing of this, used it to their political benefit,” Bossie said. “Thankfully, the American people weren’t fooled by it. I think that once again [the administration] tried to manipulate and use people.”

Anderson notes pollster Scott Rasmussen could find “no substantive change” resulting from the ads.

“These are really quite shameless misinformation ads, made all the worse because they are targeting seniors, and only the Obama administration could likely get away with them,” said Anderson.


Loren Heal ([email protected]) writes from Neoga, Illinois.