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Ad Audit: “If”


SPONSOR: Healthy Economy Now is an “odd bedfellows” coalition — increasingly common on the health care scene. Its members are the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), AARP, the American Medical Association, the Advanced Medical Technology Association, Business Roundtable, Families USA and the Service Employees International Union. This is the third ad the coalition has released in an ad buy that has totaled more than $12 million.

SUMMARY: The goal of the ads is to press the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who have been snarling about the cost of a health care overhaul and other issues, to support the House bill. The ad urges people to call congressmen who have expressed reservations to ask them to support the legislation.

BACKGROUND: Lori Lodes, a spokeswoman for the SEIU, said ads in this buy, with a price tag of $7 million, began running July 14 and will continue until July 28.

The ads target Democratic Reps. Jim Matheson of Utah; Charlie Melancon of Louisiana; Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota; Mike Ross of Arkansas; Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota and John Tanner of Tennessee. The ads also are airing in several other states, including Alaska, Ohio and Virginia.

“These states and districts were chosen because they have the power to ensure health care legislation moves forward in Washington,” Lodes said in an e-mail. “They are also states where anti-reform groups are airing their television ads.”

DESCRIPTION (ad #1): Piano music plays as the viewer gets a peek into the home of an older couple puzzling over a medical bill. “If we don’t act, medical bills will wipe out their savings,” a voice-over says.

Next up: A woman who was denied coverage because of a medical The next image is of a sad-looking boy on a swing. “If we don’t act he won’t get the chemotherapy he needs,” the narrator says. The ad then highlights a small business owner who worries that he won’t be able to cover his employees because of costs that will “rise 70 percent” — though no time frame is given.

The commercial shifts in tone: “But we can act. The president and Congress have a plan to lower your costs and stop denials for pre-existing conditions.” As the music turns upbeat, medical professionals are shown hard at work. The ad ends with the words, “It’s time to act.”

POLICY AND POLITICS: The fiscally conservative Blue Dogs are worried that health overhaul legislation will lead to bigger deficits — concerns fueled by last week’s Congressional Budget Office testimony on the House bill. They also contend that the bill lacks cost controls. And, given the weakness in the economy, they’re worried about a proposed surtax on the wealthy for expanded coverage and about a requirement that employers provide health insurance, something they say could impose a big burden on small businesses.

But with the votes of the 51 Blue Dogs crucial to getting the Democratic bill through the House, the moderate-to-conservative Democrats are under growing pressure from the leadership and President Barack Obama to swallow their concerns and back the legislation.

Robert Blendon, professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at Harvard School of Public Health, said the ad tries to ratchet up the pressure by pointing out the problems in the health insurance market. “But it won’t change the environment in those states, which is, if there’s a new tax being talked about and there are a lot of government [mandates]… making business and people do things they don’t want to do, (they say) ‘That’s not our culture.'”

Blendon also pointed out that the ad doesn’t directly name the individual Blue Dogs. “They’re not doing the things they would do in an election, which would be much sharper edged,” he said. “But [the ads] are a warning that they could.”