A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

More Health Care Ads?


So now that President Obama is set to sign this health care bill into law, you won’t have to hear all kinds of claims about it, right? Well, not so fast. The end of the health care ad wars isn’t here yet.

Liberals are getting in the first shots — praising Democratic House members who voted their way, and attacking at least one Republican who didn’t. But we suspect there’s much more to come. Republicans are vowing to make the vote a major issue in the midterm elections in November.

Health Care for America Now and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees praise Democrats while they continue to hammer away at insurance companies in an ad that will run in 14 congressional districts over the next week. The total ad buy is $1 million.

In the ad, an announcer says that "the insurance companies hired 2,049 lobbyists to try and get their way." But that number is inflated. It’s the total number of lobbyists hired by the insurance industry and the health services/HMO industry in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Those categories include more than just health insurance companies. The insurance industry includes companies that sell life insurance, auto insurance and home insurance, and so not all those lobbyists would have been working on the health care bill. It’s true that Blue Cross/Blue Shield and America’s Health Insurance Plans are the two top companies in terms of dollars spent on insurance lobbying. But the top six also include Prudential Financial, American Council of Life Insurers, New York Life Insurance and the United Services Automobile Association Group. Not exactly the prime targets of the HCAN/AFSCME ad.

The health services/HMOs category also includes entities that don’t sell health insurance, such as the American Ambulance Association, Quest Diagnostics (a laboratory testing company) and the Visiting Nurse Association of America.

The ad goes on to say that the insurance companies spent "$86 million dollars … on misleading ads to try and kill reform." That number, too, is inflated. It’s a recent total spent by all opponents to health care legislation on TV ads, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, as quoted in Politico. Those opponents would include many groups other than health insurance companies — which did, we recall, put out a warm and fuzzy pro-health care overhaul ad early on. Third-party groups spent plenty on false and misleading ads, which kept those of us in the fact-checking business quite busy.

Also worth noting: Advocates of the health care legislation had spent more — $99 million — to win over voters to their side.

Another liberal group, Americans United for Change, also hit the airwaves with an attack on Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. That ad takes Bachmann to task for voting "against giving you the same insurance choices she gets."

This ad is mainly correct. We’ll just quibble with the claim that "all Minnesotans" will have access to the same kind of health insurance that members of Congress get. The insurance exchanges will have the same kind of plans as Congress, but the exchanges are designed for those who purchase health coverage on their own, and small businesses with up to 100 employees. Minnesotans who already get coverage from their employer won’t be eligible to purchase plans through the exchanges (unless the firm is a small business that chooses to buy through the exchange). Employer-sponsored plans will have to meet minimum federal standards, just like the exchange plans. Also, the exchanges won’t start getting customers until 2014.