Lawmakers want Medicare ad pulled

Some Republican senators claim that a TV campaign featuring Andy Griffith is misleading, taxpayer-funded political activity.

By Chris Silva — Posted Aug. 16, 2010

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A group of Republican senators have taken exception to a television advertising campaign that promotes the benefits of the health system reform law on seniors. They have asked the Dept. of Health and Human Services to cease airing it and to reimburse the Treasury Dept. for its costs.

In an Aug. 3 letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the senators wrote that they believe the ad campaign "is a clear violation of the spirit of federal laws that prohibit the use of taxpayer dollars for campaign purposes." They also requested that Sebelius provide documentation identifying from which HHS account the funds came. The ad reportedly cost $700,000, they said.

The letter was signed by Sens. Tom Coburn, MD (R, Okla.), Richard Burr (R, N.C.), John Barrasso, MD (R, Wyo.), John McCain (R, Ariz.) and John Thune (R, S.D.).

The group took issue with a television spot featuring actor Andy Griffith that was launched July 30. The department said it describes "important improvements to Medicare" made by the national health reform overhaul, which was signed into law in March.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid spokesman Peter Ashkenaz said the administration will issue a response to the senators' letter, but a reply was not ready at this article's deadline.

The agency did respond to criticism of the ad by, a public policy organization based in Washington, D.C. The group cited figures from the Congressional Budget Office projecting that millions of Medicare Advantage beneficiaries could see their benefits reduced as a result of the reform law.

CMS replied that "while Medicare Advantage plans will no longer get excessive unjustified payments, they have numerous tools to keep their costs competitive with those of Medicare, such as reducing overhead, improving quality and better managing chronic diseases."

The ad was part of a commemoration by HHS celebrating 45 years of Medicare. CMS said in a July 30 news release that the new reform law will eliminate deductibles, co-payments and cost sharing for most preventive care, and will boost other benefits.

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