Documents Detail PR Campaign to Promote Health Care Overhaul

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Documents obtained by a government watchdog group show that the Obama administration has set aside millions since last year to promote the health care overhaul, and may have tried targeting its ads toward black and Hispanic audiences in particular.

Judicial Watch, which obtained the correspondence through a Freedom of Information Act challenge, released the documents Thursday. The file includes numerous emails between federal health officials and representatives at public relations firm The Ogilvy Group, which was helping manage the campaign.

The emails span a fairly recent period, as administration officials discussed ways to draw Americans to the site to inform them about provisions of the law going into effect. The conversations reflect in part a strategy of targeting women and minorities.

In a December 2010 email from an Ogilvy executive to health department officials summing up a meeting, the executive said they want to use the "bulk" of paid media efforts, including on Radio One and Univision, "on media that reaches African Americans and Hispanics."

"The money will go farther and these audiences continue to be a top priority," the executive said.

He also noted that the administration was "most interested" in focusing its overall efforts on moms, families and young people under 26 -- reflecting a desire to get the word out about a policy change letting people under 26 stay on their parents' health plans.

Another email this past January discussed new banners regarding the health care law. For the Spanish-language one, an Ogilvy representative wrote of the accompanying image: "I realize we really can't use the blond mom and child for this audience."

Another email noted efforts to draw traffic to the site via Google's Spanish-language search engine -- but said Google's English site was getting more traffic. The email from November 2010 said terms like "Affordable Care Act" and "Obamacare" were doing the best.

Though the term "Obamacare" is often used by Republicans to disparage the bill, one health official suggested putting more money into targeting people who search for "Obamacare" in order to draw more traffic.

The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed to that $3.5 million was spent promoting the site.

"This is not out of the ordinary," HHS spokesman Chris Stenrud said, noting that the previous administration spent $61.7 million in 2004 after the passage of the Medicare Part D program.

Strenrud said that a portion of the online advertising was done in Spanish to help Americans find the Spanish companion site to

"Significant health disparities in the Latino community are well-documented, as well as lower rates of health insurance coverage," Stenrud said. "It is critical that we ensure that those who need help the most are aware of their rights, protections, and benefits under the Affordable Care Act."

The conservative Judicial Watch speculated that the total cost of the Obama administration's promotion may have been much higher.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement that Americans should be "disturbed" by the campaign.

"The Obama administration is using taxpayer dollars to manipulate public opinion," he said.