Home Politics John Aronno: On Politics Is a Chicago Marketing Firm Behind Misleading Alaska Health Care Websites?

Is a Chicago Marketing Firm Behind Misleading Alaska Health Care Websites?

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People like to understand things. Simple is good. It’s why we watch football and vote for politicians who say “liberty” a lot. Simple is also the goal: the person best able to boil his or her argument down to a single, effective, and tweetable talking point generally enjoys the upper hand in a debate.
One needs to be quick about it, too. Otherwise, someone else will get the jump on you. Simple and quick. Get out in front of the debate and make a positive first impression.
The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare (or, in some cases, “WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE”), is not simple. The legislation is really long, really complicated, and will take a really long time to be fully implemented – and probably a really long time after that before we get a comprehensive sense of how effective it is. But we’re not there yet. We’re in a very different, much scarier place: a place that doesn’t have much to do with the policy and has everything to do with the politics.
And not just any politics: politics that operate inside a vacuum – a land of hypotheticals and dire forecasts that have much more to do with winning elections than providing accurate assessments.
Back in 2010, before the online exchanges went online and the “Glitch Wars” began, the criticisms of ACA were different. There were death panels and secret microchips; hidden provisions allowed hackers access to savings accounts. If you didn’t sign up for insurance, you could lose your house and go to jail. All at the hands of ACORN!
Everything was sensationalized, simmered to a tweet, and thrown out into the public discourse. None of the claims were true, but that mattered less than the massive amount of people repeating them. That is how first impressions are made; and without the bill immediately going into effect to dispel the absurd rumors, they lingered. They found new homes in public opinion polls. People’s disapproval of the bill reflected the repetition of false claims.
Meanwhile, legitimate problems with the roll-out were becoming evident.
When the health care exchanges went live, no one seemed able to actually get the health care. The web sites kept crashing. No brain chips were activated (that we know of), but plenty was – and is – going wrong. The problems are a lot less Machiavellian, as was predicted, and a lot more “Meh-I-can’t-login.”
It’s a big deal. The deadline to sign up is approaching. Unfortunately, the in between time has created a brand new vacuum.
In Alaska, two new websites have popped up, aimed at stoking opposition to the exchanges, delaying implementation, and swinging a midterm election or two.

Know the Facts Alaska.
The innocuously titled KnowtheFactsAlaska.org has a large presence on Facebook, posing as a nonpartisan info-gathering website where people can “Learn About the New Federal Health Exchange and If it is Right for You and Your Family.” The content, however, has almost exclusively consisted of opinionated criticisms of the roll-out.
The accompanying website offers a quiz to help confused Alaskans determine whether or not they should enroll in the exchanges. Users are asked several “yes or no” questions about their employment, health, and preferences in insurance. But when the user clicks “submit” to view the results, nothing happens. It’s broken. Kind of like how the online exchanges don’t work. Get it?
The site subtly encourages Alaskans to hold off on enrolling, saying that it’s better to wait:

You might want to wait and see if other enrollees are happy with how the new federal exchange plans are run before you drop your current plan. There will also be more enrollment opportunities in the future.

The deadline to sign up for health care and avoid paying a fine is February 15, 2014. Those who wait beyond that date will have to pay a maximum fine of either one percent of their taxable annual household income or $95 per person, whichever is higher. That deadline may end up being pushed back, depending on whether or not the Obama administration can get the online marketplaces up and running, and as long as most people have been able to sign up.
Thus, anti-health reform groups are adopting “hold off and wait” campaigns as a backup strategy in case the sites get fixed in a timely manner. It’s a delay tactic that could cost you real money because well-funded groups don’t want the health reform law to be implemented.
The second group wears this tactic as a badge.
Don’t Enroll Alaska.
DontEnrollAlaska.org skips the part where they pretend to be unbiased. Rather than dance around the truth, “Don’t Enroll” assaults readers with a bullet-pointed spray of blatant lies.

“Did you know the IRS has requested more than 16,000 new agents to help implement key parts of the ObamaCare insurance exchanges?”

Why, no, I didn’t. Because that didn’t happen. This is what happens when Ron Paul opens his mouth and people listen. (He went as far as to claim the new army of IRS agents would be armed too. They left that part out.) Factcheck.org called it a “wildly inaccurate claim.

“According to the Doctor Patient Medical Association, 83% of doctors say that they may quit their practice. Imagine how much worse it will get once ObamaCare is in full swing.”

The Doctor Patient Medical Association was formed to oppose ACA. They’re a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council and the National Tea Party Federation. Their survey, in which 83 percent of doctors indicated they were thinking about quitting, had nothing to do with ACA. It asked doctors about “current changes,” which Politifact pointed out included “many other factors, such as changes driven by insurance companies and hospital systems. There’s no way of knowing what specifically the respondents were referring to.”
The CEO of Doctor Patient Medical Association, despite the group’s bias, admitted that “group was not asking specifically about the health care law.”

“Alaska will have the second highest rates in the nation according to a[sic] Department of Health and Social Services.”

They left an important word out. Alaska will continue to have the second highest rates in the nation.” Alaska Dispatch noted earlier this week: “[U]nder Premera Blue Cross, for non-smoking family of four in Anchorage, with two 45-year olds and two dependents under 20, the household will be charged a whopping $1,604 per month.”
That cost sounds outrageous (because health care prices are outrageous). But context matters.
As the Alaska Journal of Commerce pointed out three years ago: “Insurance premiums are, on average, 30 percent above the comparison states. Annual health insurance costs for a family in 2010 was $1,817 compared to $1,413 in Washington state.”
Obamacare actually lowers insurance costs for many Alaskans, and requires certain levels of care that, before implementation, insurance companies could get away with leaving out of their plans. Hospital visits. Medication. Preexisting conditions. That sort of thing. And if a family makes $88,200 or less annually, they’ll be eligible for additional subsidies to help ease the burden under ACA.
Hand in Hand Against Obamacare.
The two websites share a common purpose: reinforce false information that damages Obamacare’s brand while encouraging people to hold off on signing up. They’re willing to risk your money in hopes that the backlog created by the web problems and their stalling tactics will result in more delay of the implementation. Hopefully, the efforts result in some electoral wins along the way. (“Know Your Facts Alaska” has a “Health Reform Timeline” that includes the next senatorial and presidential election dates.)
The websites are conspicuously similar. Both domains were registered on September 9, 2013 (within six minutes of each other) through Web.com; each under an identical phone number with a Nova Scotia area code. One would guess these are not coincidences.
“Know The Facts Alaska” was contracted to a Chicago marketing firm, AE Marketing Group. The group prominently displayed on the Facebook page, looking all grass-rootsy and Alaskan, is neither. Someone flew them up here to look local and record a 30-second youtube video. The group has also, according to the page, “led focus groups, conducted research and interviewed people all over Alaska.” The firm has done similar work against ACA in Wisconsin, and has done work for several health insurance companies and hospitals.

Other than the firm contracted to make the bogus websites, current campaign disclosure laws make finding out who contracted them in the first place very difficult. Since neither of the websites specifically direct Alaskans to “vote for this person” or “vote against this policy,” they don’t have to disclose who is funding them. Each site neatly identifies that they are “not formally affiliated or funded by any political party.” And then they are free and clear to try and manipulate the public any way they see fit, short of naming names. It is important to check the certifications of the agencies you hire for this kind of work, there are respectable companies like West Palm Beach Internet Marketing who specializes on the marketing work.

1 COMMENT

  1. There will be a event tomorrow, November 12th, 5:00pm at the Wilda Marston Theater, presented by the Alaska Policy Forum. It is supposed to explain the “facts” of the Affordable Care Act. As it is being sponsored by Alaska Policy Forum, The Foundation for Government Accountability and Americans For Prosperity, I have to wonder how informative and truthful it will truly be.

  2. Thanks for writing the article John, and I try not to make the perfect the enemy of what is possible now but we must continue our efforts to expand the eligibility for Medicare and expand the goals of the1946 Hill–Burton Act.
    The question we must address in this effort is; why does healthcare require a massive subsidy for the international derivatives market? The fact is that insurance cartels have portfolios overwhelmed by derivatives contracts that were strictly illegal in the United States between 1946 and 1982.
    Today the entire world’s physical economy is being destroyed by derivatives gambling and instead of returning to financial standards that once gave the world a rising standard of living we endlessly debate new subsidies for something that should be illegal.
    Disciplining derivatives gambling with a 1% Wall Street sales tax can pay for health care and most other social safely net programs.