The $3 million message: D.C. spin-doctors go to work on health care exchange

Gov. Peter Shumlin address participants in a Vermont Health Connect forum held at Capitol Plaza  Hotel in Montpelier last month. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

Gov. Peter Shumlin addressed participants in a Vermont Health Connect forum held at Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier last month. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

The Shumlin administration’s decision to spend $2.8 million on messaging for the Vermont health exchange is unprecedented and unnecessary, politicians and observers said Tuesday.

The $2.8 million contract with GMMB, a Washington, D.C. firm, is about a third of the $9 million in federal dollars the state has for outreach and education: $2.3 million is going to Richmond-based HMC Advertising for media buys, and another $2 million is for so-called “navigators” to provide one-on-one assistance. In all, the state has roughly $170 million from the federal government to launch Vermont Health Connect.

GMMB is spending $500,000 to solicit “earned media,” or positive stories and op-eds in local news outlets. Most of the money is for developing messages for speeches, talking points, news releases, editorial boards and reporters.

Though big businesses and advocacy groups commonly hire media relations firms to audit media companies and spin stories to the press, sources interviewed for this story say state government has not previously spent such prodigious sums on media relations.

The scale of the project, however, is also unprecedented: The state is mandating that 100,000 Vermonters buy insurance on the exchange over a six-month period.

Whatever the public relations strategy, the online enrollment program for Vermont Health Connect simply hasn’t worked very well. The state website hasn’t functioned properly since it was launched on Oct. 1. As of the end of last week, only 141 people had fully enrolled. In the aftermath, state officials have had to deflect a torrent of bad publicity. As of Tuesday, 631 Vermonters had signed up, according to a report from WCAX. The deadline for enrollments is Dec. 21 in order for coverage to be effective Jan.1. Vermonters can sign up for the exchange until March 31.

A survey conducted at the end of September showed that the 43 percent of Vermonters who have heard of Vermont Health Connect, less than half knew what it was.

The “earned media” buy

Vermont Press Bureau reporter Peter Hirschfeld first reported that the state contract with GMMB, which is famous for its media campaigns for President Barack Obama, includes an audit of the media in Vermont.

Politicians, media observers and public relations experts say this is the first time a state agency has employed a media relations firm to audit coverage by local media outlets. GMMB researchers gave news organizations a thumbs-up or thumbs-down for positive or negative coverage, and used the information to shape messages for news reporters.

Mark Larson, the commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access (DVHA), described the $500,000 “earned media” project as “a very small piece of a multifaceted public outreach effort.”

GMMB was paid $18,235 for a brief analysis of six months of media coverage about Vermont Health Connect. GMMB codes articles as having a positive, negative or neutral tone, and it spotlights certain reporters, such as VPR’s Bob Kinzel, whose coverage, by their estimation, has exhibited a negative bent.

Former Gov. Jim Douglas, Gov. Peter Shumlin’s Republican predecessor, said the need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence press coverage of his initiatives never arose.

“I’ve never heard of it being done before, and I certainly didn’t do it,” Douglas said. “I generally had a good relationship with the press that covered me. The working press who I dealt with I thought were fair and professional.”

Douglas said he presided over a much smaller public information campaign, consisting of advertisements when the state rolled out the Catamount Health Plan. His administration contracted the work out to GMMB.

“I never had any concerns about how it was portrayed when I signed the bill. … It was a bipartisan initiative,” Douglas said. “This is bigger and more politically charged, but I can assure you I never spent money to audit the press. All governors from time to time express some exasperation about coverage, but that’s the process. Whatever level of frustration I may have experienced, I dealt with that.”

Though most of the $500,000 in the “earned media” category of the $2.8 million contract is for honing messages, certain line items in the Shumlin administration’s contract with GMMB raised eyebrows among political bystanders.

GMMB spent $8,600 for a contact list of the state’s dozen or so statewide reporters and media outlets that cover health care. The firm’s earned media plan, dated April 2013, recommends that Vermont Health Connect set up “introductory meetings” with 10 reporters, including: Bob Kinzel, WBTN/Vermont Public Radio; Nancy Remsen, Burlington Free Press; Andrew Stein, VTDigger.com (sic); Peter Hirschfield (sic), Rutland Herald/Times Argus; Joe Gullo, Fox News 44/ABC 22; Pat Bradley, Northeast Public Radio/WAMC.com; Dave Gram, Associated Press; Olga Peters, The Commons; Chris Fleisher, Valley News; and Jennifer Brandt, Vermont Business Magazine. The firm also suggests that state officials reach out to “mom bloggers with niche audiences” such as NEK Moms and Burlington VT Moms Blog Vermont.

The contract sets aside $12,600 for GMMB to schedule meetings between editorial boards and Vermont Health Connect officials, but that fee doesn’t include materials, such as talking points, or managing the calendar for the meetings. Those services cost an additional $49,000.

In its earned media plan, GMMB targets seven editorial boards for outreach: the Burlington Free Press, VTDigger.com (sic), Rutland Herald/Times Argus, Valley News, The Bennington Banner, The Caledonian-Record, Vermont Business Magazine.

Robin Lunge, director of Health Care Reform for the Shumlin administration, speaks at a Vermont Health Connect forum in Montpelier last month. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

Robin Lunge, director of Health Care Reform for the Shumlin administration, speaks at a Vermont Health Connect forum in Montpelier last month. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger

The plan supplies the department with generic advice such as: “Using a wide range of tactics will offer many bites at the apple.” It offers the following tips for developing relationships with reporters, editorial writers and columnists: “Relationships should be built on an informal and introductory basis. These should be off-the-record discussions over coffee, lunch, email or an in-person meeting.”

The contract allocates $37,267 to GMMB to create a stockpile of success stories, dubbed a “story bank,” related to the exchange. As part of the arrangement, GMMB is supposed to provide media coaching to the individuals at the center of these stories, offering “speaking tips and tricks to put them at ease” and working with them to “ensure the story to be genuine.”

Eric Davis, a retired Middlebury College political science professor, questioned the cost and the need to contract out for such services.

“The amount of money being spent for some of these services was pretty high,” Davis said. “I think previous administrations would have been able to research this information using in-house staff and wouldn’t need to pay thousands of dollars to get that information.”

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said he was “underwhelmed” by GMMB’s ad campaign. He is concerned that not enough Vermonters are going to get the basic information they need to sign up for the state’s exchange.

“I have to be honest, when I heard the ads I wasn’t that impressed,” Scott said. “I wanted more factual information rather than sales and marketing. I felt as though I was getting the sales pitch.”

As for the size of GMMB’s expenditures? “I’d have assembled that list (of media contacts) for a lot less money … all they had to do was call me,” Scott said.

“I think the governor is fiscally prudent, but if this was state money I wonder: Would we be doing the same thing, or is it because we look at this as being free we see it as a windfall and utilize it in that manner,” Scott said. “I’m guessing probably not. If the dollars were more limited … I don’t think we’d be doing this this way.”

Davis said he was also surprised DVHA chose to rely on a firm with political roots.

“What did surprise me a bit when I read the story was that this contract for advertising was given to a firm that does mostly political work rather than a firm that does mostly advertising work,” he said.

Governor’s office directs inquiries to Larson

The governor’s office distanced itself from the contract with GMMB Tuesday. Shumlin did not take phone calls from reporters, and he is not holding a press conference this week. All inquiries were directed to Larson.

“We did not have anything to do with that contract,” Sue Allen, the governor’s  press secretary, said.

Asked whether Shumlin had seen the contract before it was approved, Allen said she wasn’t sure, but would check. At the time of publication, she had not responded. Allen said she personally had no recollection of seeing the contract.

Allen handles media duties for Shumlin — collating press lists, distributing news releases, referring reporters to public officials, and reaching out to editorial boards — but she said her work is confined to the governor’s office.

When asked if she could have supplied DVHA with some of the information that GMMB was paid to provide — for example, a list of relevant reporters and editorial boards — Allen said that question never came up.

“I was never asked for anything like that,” she said. “I have never even looked at the contract. That’s not part of my job to assist with a contract.”

On some occasions, Allen’s work does dovetail with that DVHA, she said. “I have reached out to editorial boards and said if you need information, call Robin [Lunge] and Mark [Larson],” Allen said, but that wasn’t the case with this contract.

“I don’t work for DVHA. I work for the governor,” Allen said. “And this was a special contract where things were kind of spelled out. This clearly would not have been in my domain.”

Larson said the rollout of Vermont Health Connect required more resources than the administration could provide.

“It was a constant message we were getting that we needed to do more to get information out to Vermonters and the usual resources within the administration to engage in this ongoing education process were not adequate,” Larson said. “We had a competitive bid process where GMMB was the winning bidder in supporting that project. It wasn’t an either or between Sue Allen, Louis Porter and others, it was always thought of as strengthening the resources internally.”

GMMB was one of six bidders for the original contract with the state. The Shumlin administration has twice amended the contract and increased the maximum expenditures. The first bid amount, $670,000, was upped 171 percent to $1.8 million. On Aug. 30, officials signed off on another 57 percent increase, raising the amended contract to $2.8 million.

Jeb Spaulding, secretary of the Agency of Administration, says, “It’s very common for the contract for be to amended and for the scope of work to be changed.” Spaulding couldn’t say whether the administration had asked contractors to conduct media audits in the past.

GMMB did not return a request for comment before press time on Tuesday.

Anne Galloway and Andrew Stein contributed to this report.

Follow Alicia on Twitter @aefreese

Comments

  1. Avram Patt :

    Methinks the Vermont press, vtdigger included, are being awfully self-rightous in their umbrage. “Shocked, SHOCKED” that a pile of money is spent to influence a successful roll out of a historic event. (Whether you agree with the program or not, it is historic.) The money spent to spin this the OTHER WAY is of course far greater, but the press can’t get at that through FOIA requests, so this is an easier bit of investigative journalism. It’s a story, OK, but please, can we be a little bit less BREATHLESS!!!! about it?

    • Tom Pelham :

      I can think back on major “historic” and controversial changes affecting well more than 100,000 taxpayers and businesses, such as the implementation of Act 60 during the Dean Adminsitration when I was Finance Commissioner and the implementation of Act 68 in 2003 when I was Tax Commissioner. We had no budgets – none – for media oversight but relied on doing a good job of implementation, on the relationships developed with the media over the years, and the Governor’s ability to communicate. In both the above situations, state government delivered the outcome as mandated by law. Even though I voted against Act 68 as a legislator, I was responsible for implementing it as Tax Commissioner and the Tax Dept. staff did a great job. In this situation, it’s clear Mark Larson and crew have some implementation problems which wasting money on media oversight can’t fix.

    • Craig Powers :

      Wasting millions upon millions on Exchange websites that really do not work sure is “historic”.

      That $$$ could have been used to actually provide coverage…instead it has been wasted by an “elitist” super majority that thinks it has all the answers.

    • Keith Stern :

      You are talking tongue in cheek, right? That is money being wasted, pure and simple, money that comes from those of us who pay taxes.

  2. Dave Bellini :

    Did anyone in the administration consider just presenting Vermonters with facts? Without spin? This is getting to be like the drug company commercials.
    .
    It doesn’t build trust when the state resorts to hiring a political spin machine to try convincing people the product is good.

    • Keith Stern :

      It has to be spun like that because the facts are that it is completely unaffordable and taxes will be raised much higher, and that it is unwarranted because there is a better, more affordable way to help people with health insurance costs.

  3. Googling the search terms “GMMB vermont” (without quote marks), I came across this item from 2007:
    http://www.vermontguardian.com/dailies/042007/041107.shtml
    via the now defunct Vermont Guardian

    As a point of reference, particularly given the context of the comments made by former Governor Jim Douglas on the subject, it would be rather interesting to also be able to read as well as examine the contract the state made with GMMB as well as related documents back then as well.

  4. Fred Woogmaster :

    This is a most informative article. Thank you.

    Insiders, like Mr. Patt, view this differently – a threat to the process by which this administration does its business. Given the substance and the specifics of this piece, I understand why.

    Every administration has its apologists; that is to be expected. Apologists, however, tend to myopically obscure the truth.

    What DOES this contract represent – beyond the obvious? Is our esteemed Vermont Press Corps for sale? I think not!

    • Fred Woogmaster :

      addendum: Although I would prefer national health insurance, like Medicare, for all – I am generally supportive of ”The plan”.

  5. I thought that one of the efficiencies (and savings that could be diverted to actual care) government run health care was supposed to bring was eliminating wasteful advertising and marketing. This is the most wasteful advertising campaign imaginable. Double the projected cost! I think the $8600 Vermont press list has now replaced the $600 Pentagon toilet seat as the symbol of government incompetence and profligacy.

  6. Rep. Jim Condon :

    It’s no wonder our state exchange has the highest administrative costs of any exchange in the nation. Paying a DC consulting firm to give VHC a list of ten reporters and a poorly conceived “earned media plan” is a shameful waste of money.

    The “media plan” timetable calls for VHC to tell “the story of success” between April and November of 2014. So I guess that’s something we can look forward to!

  7. Josh Fitzhugh :

    One can disagree with the Tea Party tactics in Washington, but when you see how the federal government throws around our money you do have to ask whether this is going to end in some place good. Bring back Calvin Coolidge! I agree with Phil Scott: if these had not been federal dollars we wouldn’t be spending them. And therein lies the problem…

  8. Kathy Callaghan :

    In today’s Times -Argus there is an ad for a “Health Care Forum” to be held at the Barre Elks Club tonight at 6:30.

    Earlier ads for this Vermont Health Connect presentation indicated that it was an opportunity to ask questions and get answers.

    This ad, however, says there will be an “Audio-Visual Presentation” with presenters being Robin Lunge and Peter Sterling.

    Two observations: (1) the last time I attended one of these at the Barre library, Robin Lunge et al would only take written questions, even though it was a small room and we were all face to face! Imagine writing down your questions in a small venue where you are six feet away from the presenter who does not want to take oral questions. Of course people asked questions anyway.

    (2) The audio-visual, of course, will be the very expensive “canned spin”. How much time will be allotted to actual questions and answers?

    People should show up for this and ask their questions. After all, it is called a Health care “Forum”.

    • rosemarie jackowski :

      A while back I attended one of these meetings held by the GMCB. It was a total waste of effort for the citizens who attended. There was no real time allotted for asking questions or having meaningful discussion. When the meeting ended, some of us left with the feeling that we had attended a ‘spin and scam’ session.

      Unfortunately those who ‘call’ the meeting control the time and agenda. The best way to get around this is for citizen groups to call the meeting and invite those who are in power.

    • Peter Liston :

      I attended one of these forums.

      I (and everyone there) was able to ask Robin Lunge questions verbally. There was plenty of time for follow up.

      There was a lot of time for questions. She answered every question clearly and openly. And stayed until every question was answered. She stayed after the presentation to talk to people 1 on 1.

      It was very informative.

  9. Keith Stern :

    Next year is the year to replace an historically bad governor and replace him with a fiscally responsible, well reasoned person.
    I just hope we can get enough people to pay attention to his record before they vote next time.

  10. Elinor Osborn :

    My criticism is based on one ad so I hope others are better. There were no facts in it. It took awhile to even know what the ad was about and even then it was not very clear. This kind of spin is like all other ads and causes one to distrust the product knowing that it is all hype and half truths- if that. What a waste of taxpayer money. People need reputable facts, clear and serious from the agency involved, not spin.

    • Keith Stern :

      It has to be spun because it is a bad product. That is what advertising it is for.

      • With all respect, Keith, as a former ad man, that is NOT what advertising is for. Advertising Guru Bill Bernbach once said a great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster because it would make more people aware that it’s bad. An effective advertising campaign is “the truth well told.” I’m not sure what Bernbach would say about this — a bad campaign for a bad product.

    • David Dempsey :

      You said it Elinor. The ads were useless. The governors office could have done a better job if they would have done a press release to be aired and written in every media source in Vermont that told people who buy their own insurance, work for a company with less than 50 people, currently have Catamount Health insurance will lose that coverage January 1st and must sign up on the health exchange. For more information, call 1-800-Shumlins -folly. Currently uninsured Vermonters can also buy insurance on the exchange and should contact the number provided also.
      Then they could have recruited every high school journalism class in the state to design and distribute posters around their towns that say the same thing. Total cost, not much. An e-mail sent to a database of media contacts in Vermont and a recruitment/directions e-mail to all the high schools in the state, and reimbursement to the high schools for the cost of markers and poster paper. That would have been more effective than a bunch of ads that didn’t even tell the affected people that they need to sign up on the health exchange to have insurance January 1, 2014.

  11. Yet another Shumlin “Ready, Fire, Aim” management moment.

    However, this time the Gov claims to know nothing about the development of the World War II German style propaganda program designed to keep the people confused and in the dark about what’s really happening, while his trusty assistant Sue Allen does not recall seeing the contract.

    Please, how stupid do the people on the 5th floor think Vermonters are?

  12. I the spirit of transparency, I would love to know who bid on the RFP for this project, and the specifics of those bids. Were there no Vermont firms bidding? I would think HMC (and numerous other VT firms) would be more than capable of executing the entire project.

    Considering these are Federal dollars, I wonder if we would all be less ‘offended’ by the pricing and cost if a Vermont firm had been awarded the contract, and we knew the dollars were essentially getting injected into our local economy. There continues to be an interesting stream of data on the multiplier effect 0f local sourcing:
    http://www.amiba.net/resources/studies-recommended-reading/local-premium

    • Fred Woogmaster :

      “I wonder if we would all be less ‘offended’ by the pricing and cost if a Vermont firm had been awarded the contract, and we knew the dollars were essentially getting injected into our local economy.”

      YES!

  13. Matt Fisken :

    Vermont Health Connect should have followed the eEnergy Vermont model. Sign everyone up automatically and require registering and paying a penalty to opt out. Have a couple extra million lying around?Spend it on advertising anyway to get the media on your good side.

  14. In case it is of interest, in order to begin to better understand how many contracts as well as how much funding is at play regarding these matters, fyi:

    Department of Vermont Health Access Contracts:
    http://dvha.vermont.gov/administration/contracts/
    Executed contracts, contract amendments and proposals received in response to requests for proposals (RFP)

    To find contracts between the state and its contractors relating to the state’s health exchange, scroll about halfway down the page “Health Benefit Exchange” and other “Health” related items. In addition, scrolling toward the bottom of the page one finds items under “Vermont Health Connect” related items. The middle column listed under “Contract No.” providing the contract number is the one to click in order to view a given contract. In the next column to the right is a listing of amendments to the initial contract, if any. The next column to the right of that one is the RFP, if any.

  15. Keith Vance :

    The people’s business?

  16. Elinor Osborn :

    VT Digger gives Vermont citizens valuable information about government in articles like these. Keep up the good work.

  17. Bob Orleck :

    Good grief!

  18. It boggles the mind when one thinks about how much federal and state taxpayer dollars are being wasted er, spent to set as well as prop up the state’s overly complex health care exchange; including the Vermont Health Connect Website, which is functioning so well that paper applications are having to be used instead.

    How much has been wasted thus far doing so and how much more will be required to be spent in order to get it right (this and all following questions are posed rhetorically)?

    Yet, still, we are told by state officials and others that everything will be fine, all while nearly $3 Million have been wasted on PR related activities and so on to manipulate and spin information as well as press coverage, supposedly to inform and reassure us.

    Meanwhile, one is left to wonder about how much actual health care treatment and services could have been afforded using those very same dollars?

    Although I strongly support the provision of true universal health care treatment and services (not merely a new or different type of insurance mechanism masquerading as something it isn’t either); sorry, however this is not it. Not by a long shot.

    And, once all the money has been wasted on this effort, having paid for this highly expensive phase of things, possibly with very little if anything to truly show for it, other than a pretty, yet still useless Website and an equally failure of a PR campaign thus far; there will be nothing to show for it and also nothing left available with which to pay for what is really needed; and it will be too late to do anything about it, save for more complaining and we will be back to dealing with the same old thing all over again and then left bankrupt. What then?

    That said, when all is said as well as done, and though it is currently perceived as being rather doubtful as things appear to stand; it is my hope that I am proven wrong, truly.

    The problem is one can only hope the state does end up getting it right. However, with all the money spent thus far (some of it seeming to have been foolishly wasted), one would expect that hope would not have to be so heavily relied upon.

    There should be something real and meaningful to show for all those millions of spent taxpayer healthcare related dollars, sooner rather than later; not only broken promises, wasted opportunities and lost hopes either.

    End of rant.

  19. David Usher :

    Money provides a fragile shield for incompetence.

    • Jon Corrigan :

      And the exception to that rule is politicians – they need no shield because the worst that can happen is they’re voted out of office. Then they get appointed to a better position. We’re too often stuck with these incompetent nincompoops until the day they take their last ride, but their bad policies endure long after they’ve gone.

  20. An afterthought:

    If Vermont Health Connect were to indeed fail at some point (as some appear to be hoping and also are working towards) and, potentially the state’s future attempts at tackling universal health care fails along with it (one truly hopes not), the epitaph might possibly read something along the following lines:

    Another brilliant idea, conceived with only
    the best of intentions, yet having been overly hyped and rather poorly executed, once the support as well as money for it eventually ran out and much like so many of its predecessors., it was unceremoniously abandoned.

    (this will of course not be allowed to occur, because it is now “too big to fail” and taxpayers as well as insurance ratepayers are already set up to bail it out. right!?)

  21. Dave Bellini :

    The State Employees Health Plan should be the model being used. Last January 1 we had NO PREMIUM INCREASE and some premium Holidays in Dec. of 2012. I expect the plan will do pretty well this year too. If state employees health care costs are decreasing both employees and tax payers save money. This plan should be used as the model. It is far ahead of anything that the GMCB has created. It costs less and provides more.
    .
    So, instead of using a proven, cost saving, model, the Administration is buying millions of dollars of LIPSTICK to put on their PIG.

    • Lee Russ :

      You realize that the exchanges are part of the federal health care law, rather than the state’s, right?

      What has been the premium history prior to January of this year?

      What is the amount of the premium?

      How much of the premium, if any, is paid by the state?

      Are state employees representative of the entire state population, so that all Vermonters could expect similar treatment by the insurer?

      I have no doubt that the ACA has its problems, and the function of the exchanges leaves a lot to be desired, but lets get serious. Conservatives in the federal government would never allow a really sensible, universal care plan to be enacted. The entire recent history of the health insurance industry demonstrates that the current system is unworkable.

      I have no problem criticizing the rollout, I have no problem criticizing the terms of the contract….but most of the people jumping on this story are devoted opponents of almost any effort to provide health care in any way but through our health insurance companies. They will use any information, any misstep, any logistical problems to further their attack on health care reform.

      • David Dempsey :

        I’m not opposed to any of the things you mentioned. What I am opposed to is that Vermont is the only state to mandate that all Vermont individuals and businesses have to buy health insurance through the exchange, except for businesses like the State of Vermont who are self insured under the federal ERISA law. The exemption for businesses with over 50 employees will be phased out over time. If the exchange isn’t working isn’t up and running by 1-1-14, 100,000 people will not have health insurance effective that day. Vermont could have saved all the fedral money spent on the exchange by using the federal exchange. That exhange doesn’t have a mandate to buy insurance through exchange, and Vermonters could buy insurance anywhere they wanted. It doesn’t matter if you are for or against the exchange , this is just another case of Shumlin wanting to be the first state in union to do something, and taxpayers will pay for whatever the unfavorable consequenses are.

        • Kathy Callaghan :

          David Dempsey, the state employees health plan is not an ERISA plan. It is a self-funded plan and sometimes confused with an ERISA plan. But the ERISA law specifically exempts governmental and church plans from its requirements, even if these plans are self funded.

          • David Dempsey :

            Kathy,
            Thanks for setting me straightt on that. You are absolutely right as I found out when I looked up the law. Like the companies with ERISA plans, government and church entities that are self insured can keep their current plans until the implementation of Vermonts proposed single payer insurance plan.

  22. andew nemethy :

    Geez. For a mere, I dunno, $20,000, I could have provided information on influential media in Vermont and how to get their attention (donuts, pizza, and maybe a coffee and muffin at the local co-op, or sip of Barre Hill gin works too…) It might have taken a while, maybe a couple days? But someone has to do the hard work, right?
    Meanwhile all of us dubbed non influential have an incentive to prove this firm wrong!
    But seriously, this is an example of how the world works, unfortunately and how those who cater to govt. can throw around huge invoices for the most pedantic and prosaic information and no one says – wait a minute, we’re being taken to the cleaners.

    No doubt a Vermont firm could have done better – and so could this administration. But I have to laugh at Gov. Jim Douglas’ two cents worth decrying this issue – his administration hired media minders and spokesmen/women for every agency on the public dime, a most frustrating situation for Vt. reporters. At least Shumlin lets agency chiefs and dept. heads speak for themselves.

  23. Wendy Wilton :

    Supporters of free speech and free press ought to think about this marketing plan and disclosure very carefully. Like everything else with this governor it’s a bit unseemly, there’s a ulterior motive and the taxpayers are footing the bill.

  24. Fred Woogmaster :

    “We had a competitive bid process where GMMB was the winning bidder in supporting that project. ”
    “GMMB was one of six bidders for the original contract with the state.”

    Peter Hirschfeld, I believe, reported that there was no bidding process. I must have missed something. Who were the other bidders? Any from Vermont?

    • Fred Woogmaster :

      Hirschfeld actually reported that there was no bidding process for the additions to the original contract.
      Who WERE the unsuccessful bidders?

      • Good question, Fred. I wish I knew, too. But the state’s public records laws exempts bids from disclosure to the public. A lawmaker can subpoena the bids, but members of the general public and the press, as I understand it, do not have the right to request the documents under state law.
        Anne Galloway
        Editor, VTDigger

  25. Annette Smith :

    For all the money that’s been spent, it’s still way too confusing. I took my first trip to the health exchange website a couple days prior to its launch, and could not get to the cheapest plan to see what my payment would be.

    Today I tried again, and it’s even worse. It appears I have to log in or sign up before I can get any information other than the .pdf files with general rates but nothing specific.

    I looked at the paper form, and it is pretty general, nothing specific. And I don’t want to watch videos, I want to see what my current coverage will cost under the new program, and I don’t want to have to log in or sign up to do so.

    One thing I didn’t realize until looking today is that to sign up online you must use your social security number. That’s something I have never done, hence I don’t use some online banking or other services that require entering a SS# online.

    So the government has spent way too much money on messaging (and if they’d asked me I would gladly have provided them with all the contact info for all the relevant reporters in Vermont), with not enough attention to making the sign-up process accessible or understandable. I noticed the most prominent word on the site is “HELP”. Somehow they’ve turned it into something so over-complicated it is off-putting. And you can’t actually buy the coverage anyway. I guess I’ll try again in November.

    • MJ FARMER :

      Annette, The reason you need your SS# is so the IRS can deposit $ into your account (routing and checking # also needed) to help you pay for the average $350/mo premiums. This is called Advanced Tax Credit. At the end of next year, when you do your 2014 taxes, you will either get to keep the subsidy or you will have to pay it back. All this, will require proof that you actually spent the $ on health care and that you actually made less than the $49,000 for individual and $94,000 for family of 4. When I played with the subsidy calculator, I noticed that $1 of income does make a huge difference, kind of like Act 60. Here is a good article describing what will happen:

      http://finance.yahoo.com/news/lowering-costs-marketplace-health-insurance-112600338.html

      My biggest complaint with Vermont Health Connect is that you have to be under 30 to sign up for catastrophic insurance – I would like a plan where I will pay for everything, except for say costs incurred over $25,000. This plan is not available since I am over 29. I also should be allowed to buy insurance across state lines. Please comment if I am wrong.

  26. rosemarie jackowski :

    Million$ spent on propaganda….Zero spent on dental care. That really hurts.

  27. John Perry :

    I remember during the Douglas administration, when the press was not all that positive (when is it not negative?) that Governor Jim “reorganized” all of the major state agencies to include a Media Manager for each Agency Secretary. That didn’t play well then, and this doesn’t play well now. Douglas is being a little disingenuous.

  28. Eileen Foster :

    This extraordinary expense for a media campaign is ironic considering Governor Shumlin’s well-known dislike of Spin Doctors.

    In 2012, Shumlin nixed several advertised State communications positions. Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding stated the reason, “He [Shumlin] has a total dislike for taxpayer dollars being spent on p.r.”

    http://blogs.burlingtonfreepress.com/politics/2012/01/16/vermont-governor-doesnt-like-sound-of-these-jobs-2/

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