Sen. Rubio claims HHS planning $8.7 million ad buy to promote ObamaCare

The Obama administration is planning to spend $8.7 million encouraging people to enroll in new health insurance options under ObamaCare, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Tuesday.

Rubio criticized the expenditure, which comes as he and a handful of other conservative Republicans are threatening a government shutdown over funding to implement the healthcare law.

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"This blatant misuse of federal dollars to promote a fundamentally flawed law is extremely concerning, especially considering the extensive unknowns surrounding the coming launch and implementation of ObamaCare," Rubio wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday.

HHS is planning to buy advertising in several areas that already have been targeted by outside groups promoting enrollment in the law's new coverage options.

The department plans to buy ad time in media markets including Atlanta, Houston, Orlando and New Orleans, according to Rubio's office.

HHS could not confirm specific ad reservations, but it defended its plan to advertise ahead of the enrollment window opening.

“Starting Oct. 1, millions of Americans will be able to access quality, affordable health coverage for the first time, and we will continue educating and informing the uninsured of this opportunity," HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said.But the administration has made no secret of its plans for a significant outreach and education campaign to encourage enrollment. 

Administration officials have noted that the George W. Bush administration undertook a large public-relations campaign, including paid TV advertising, when the Medicare drug benefit took effect.

HHS also runs television ads every year for Medicaid's enrollment period and has long planned to do the same with Affordable Care Act enrollment.

The department has signed roughly $44 million in contracts with the public-relations firm Weber Shandwick to devise a campaign promoting enrollment in the new insurance marketplaces.

ObamaCare's insurance exchanges are scheduled to open for enrollment Oct. 1, but critics have raised questions about whether the law's key pieces will be ready on time.

"While the Administration should be abandoning this disastrous law, instead it is imprudently and blindly promoting poor policies that will harm Americans and American businesses, and misappropriating public funds in an effort to sell bad ideas to good people," Rubio wrote.


— This post was updated Wednesday, Sept. 4, at 11:25 a.m.