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Architects of Richard Simmons Obamacare Dance-off Rehired in $156M PR Campaign

Architects of Richard Simmons Obamacare Dance-off Rehired in $156M PR Campaign

A publicity firm that produced a costly webcast for California Obamacare featuring a gyrating Richard Simmons was retained, along with another company, for three more years at a cost of $156 million.

One legislator demands an audit.

Covered California signed the contracts last week with Ogilvy Public Relations — maker of the $137-million Simmons video — and Campbell Ewald. Both are tasked with creating a media campaign to entice new enrollees, specifically minorities.

Facing the worst drought in recent memory—  spurring rising food costs and job losses — Californians have better uses for tax dollars than another PR campaign, says Sen. Ted Gaines, who plans to ask for an audit of Covered California’s marketing department.

“Ogilvy made some major mistakes in their advanced outreach, specifically with the use of Richard Simmons. Why are they being rewarded with a renewed contract when they wasted taxpayer money?” asked Gaines. “The video bombed; I wasn’t able to get satisfactory answers as to what they accomplished with this.”

Last year Gaines demanded an audit of Covered California’s marketing department, but the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee — composed mostly of Democrats — refused to order an investigation. Now the committee has new leadership, and Gaines thinks he has a great shot at success when next meeting is held Aug. 25.

“It’s still mostly Democrats, but there are a few new members interested in knowing these facts,” Gaines said.

The contracts were awarded after a bidding process, but the exchange would not disclose whether the two winners were the low bidders. Exchange spokesperson Dana Howard said processes and discussions of bidding were “exempt from disclosure as per California Code – Section 100508.”

The contract calls for the firms to “develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to successfully acquire and retain Covered California plan participants and encourage plan renewal” using television, print, radio, digital and outdoor advertising. An emphasis will be placed on minority enrollment, Covered California said in a statement.

“We are pleased to be hiring some of the top talent in the nation to support our marketing and communications efforts,” said the exchange’s executive director, Peter Lee.

But no one has a more critical eye on the agency’s finances than Gaines, who owns an insurance agency. He sued Covered California last year to get access to its records when he failed in his bid to secure an audit. The case was settled earlier this year after Covered California agreed to spend in a more effective manner and allowed expansion of its board to allow broader oversight.

The Simmons webcast aired Jan. 16, 2014, and featured the fitness guru writhing on the floor, spreading his legs in the air and hugging a contortionist who was kneeling on the ground. The “Tell a Friend – Get Covered” campaign featured celebrities Olivia Wilde, Fran Drescher and Tatyana Ali.

The event came at a time when the state was facing a $78-million budget shortfall and 900,000 Californians saw their policies canceled while others were dealt massive increases.

“On first review, this long advertisement seems a wasteful, unserious and insulting effort, especially when viewed against the backdrop of at least a million Californians having their health coverage … (canceled) as a result of Covered California’s actions,” Gaines wrote to Lee after the event. “I question whether this is the time to pour tax dollars into what appears to be an ineffective and embarrassing quarter-day long marketing effort.”


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