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Health Ad Spending Set to Top $100M

By Ben Pershing
Total spending on health-care reform ads this year will soon reach the $100-million mark, a new milestone in an advocacy advertising campaign that experts already believe to be the costliest ever.

According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political ads, national spending on health-care spots from all sides of the debate should crest the century mark in the next few days. And just as the reform debate has reached a crucial phase -- with Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) releasing a bill this week that will drive the process forward -- the battle on the airwaves has escalated rapidly. The first $50 million of the year was spent over the course of about seven months, while the second $50 million has tumbled forth in roughly the last six weeks.

"In just the last 60 days, 49 different groups have aired nearly 100,000 TV commercials about federal health-care policy," Evan Tracey, CMAG's chief operating officer, wrote in an article posted Wednesday at He asked: "[I]s it possible that the American media consumer is on the verge of a health-care overload?"

Television viewers this summer have been bombarded with health-care ads, and paid media on the subject pales in comparison to the amount of time devoted to it on news and other programs. This Sunday, for example, President Obama plans to go on five different talk shows for interviews that will likely focus on health care, and he will visit David Letterman's "Late Show" on Monday.

The amount spent on television ads is also only one small slice of the total being expended by all sides to influence the debate. The health sector, which includes hospitals, nursing homes and pharmaceutical companies, has spent more than $240 million so far this year on registered lobbyists. And that total doesn't count millions more expended on consultants, public relations firms and grassroots activities for which spending is difficult to track.

The single biggest player in the ad wars of the last six weeks appears to be Americans for Stable Quality Care, whose backers include the American Medical Association, FamiliesUSA, the Federation of American Hospitals, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the Service Employees International Union. The group announced in mid-August that it was launching a $12 million campaign, and has since run ads nationwide making a broad case for why health-care reform should be important to average Americans, without touching on specific issues of debate such as whether to include a public insurance option.

PhRMA and FamiliesUSA have spent an additional several million dollars on pro-reform ads separate from their efforts with ASQC. PhRMA, which cut a deal with Baucus and the White House in June on keeping drug costs down, has said it would spend up to $150 million on ads and grassroots activities in support of reform, and is reportedly prepared to roll out new ads soon backing the Baucus plan.

On the opposite side, groups including the Independent Women's Forum, Club for Growth and the Republican National Committee have combined to spend millions of dollars in opposition to Democrats' reform plans.

Through the beginning of August, spending on ads specifically in favor of Obama's health-care plans (not counting those generically in favor of reform) easily outweighed spending on ads opposed to the president. But that ratio reversed during the congressional recess, when Obama's opponents became more vocal on a variety of fronts.

"In the last 60 days, more ads have aired advocating against the bill than have run in support of reform," Tracey wrote. "This is in stark contrast to earlier this year when pro-reform ads far outpaced those opposed. This means the messages from both sides are getting more aggressive and are starting to look a lot like political campaign ads in the final days."

By Ben Pershing  |  September 17, 2009; 3:25 PM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , Health Care  
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I am astounded at the money thrown around inthe US in persuit of policy. Canada has election laws the hold the amount of money a person can spend to get elected to Parliament to 60 cents per voter, (inclusive of the matching funds formula of Elections Canada), to a maximum of $60,000.00 per district/riding. No company or union may contribute and the maximum personal contribution is $1000.00 This means the Prime Minister of Canada spent $60,000.000 to get elected to Parliament and his party spent $18 million to contest some 308 seats and the Cabinet is selected only from those elected to Parliament who must face an inquiring elected oppposition every day, for everything. We have no American equivalent of lobbysist and after reading this article I'm glad of it. Maybe that's why all Parliamentary Systems of government have affordabe, quality healthcare for their citizens, they aren't beholding to anyone save the electorate

Posted by: sjag1 | September 17, 2009 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Is it any wonder the insurance companies don't want reform. Rates are going up 15% per year or more, so they've got plenty to spend on advertising to kill reform. They've probabley got several hundred million more for bonuses. Yep, what a country.

Posted by: COLEBRACKETT | September 17, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

And that doesn't even count the many millions of dollars worth of free TV time the President has gobbled up promoting his cause or the other millions of taxpayer dollars spent hopping around the country on Air Force One with his staff to make similar speeches to groups like the AFL-CIO. Maybe we should add it all up. It might just be enough to pay for the first year of Senator Baucus' "wish list."

Posted by: qball43 | September 17, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

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