President Obama with Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack.

‘Non-partisan’ group paid $1 million to produce positive Obamacare stories

November 25, 2013 | Joe Schoffstall - 1,637 Comments

With the roll out of Obamacare being as disastrous as possible for the Obama administration, one group was given a $1 million grant to help lead a rebranding effort with hopes of salvaging the law in the eyes of the American people.

Families USA (FUSA) — an organization that describes itself as a “national nonprofit, non-partisan organization dedicated to the achievement of high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans” — was given a $1.1 million grant by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on October 4, 2013, to gather “success stories” of Americans dealing with Obamacare and distribute them to the media who often refer to them as an “independent” group. This is part of a greater upcoming effort to bolster the perception of the lowly health care law.

“The purpose is to bridge the information gap for people who can significantly benefit from the Affordable Care Act,” Ron Pollack, the Co-founder and Executive Director of Families USA, told TIME on October 25, 2013.

However, the organization is a far cry from “non-partisan” and is extremely close to the Obama Administration and Enroll America – the group leading the efforts to sign people up for Obamacare.

Philippe Villers, the president of Families USA,  serves as the Secretary and Treasurer of Board of a little-known group called the Herndon Alliance. The Herndon Alliance originated in Herndon, VA in 2005 and produced research the left used to sell the overhaul of the United States health care system and counteract opposition as the president was making a push for Obamacare.  As Lachlan Markay of the Washington Free Beacon noted, they are credited with crafting President Obama’s, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” message, and are even backed with money from George Soros’ Open Society Institute.

In 2009 Politico wrote, “When President Barack Obama says Americans can maintain their ‘choice’ of doctors and insurance plans, he is using a Herndon strategy for wringing fear out of a system overhaul.” They were also described as, “the most influential group in the health arena that the public has never heard of.”

Ron Pollack, the above mentioned co-founder and Executive Director of Families USA,  told the Washington Post in a 2010 interview after the passage of Obamacare that he was going to help found a group called Enroll America in order to raise millions of dollars to assist with enrollment.

“We’re actually helping to found a new organization to work on this. Its placeholder name is Enroll America, and it will involve all the different interest groups, from supporters of reform like consumers groups to community health centers and doctors and insurers,” Pollack told Ezra Klein during an interview. He continued, “And what we’ll do is raise tens of millions of dollars for state groups to work with the state to try to create the most effective systems to apply and enroll. You should be able to enroll with simple application forms at a doctor’s office or a pharmacy. You shouldn’t have to take the day off of work. That sort of thing.”

Pollack currently sits on the board of directors of Enroll America.

In fact, the grants given by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation show Families USA and Enroll America are in the exact same office building, in the exact same suite.

Here is a screen cap of the grant awarded to Families USA, located at 1201 New York Avenue, N.W., Suite 1100, Washington, D.C.

Rachel Klein, the person listed on the grant to Families USA, is a former employee of Enroll America.

grant1

 

Here is a screen cap of the grant awarded to Enroll America, located at 1201 New York Avenue, N.W., Suite 1100, Washington, D.C.

Anne Filipic, the person listed on the grant for Enroll America, formerly served as Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Before this, she was the Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

grant2

 

As for the foundation that awarded the grants to Families USA and Enroll America — The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation– they are the largest philanthropy group in the United States devoted to health and health care. They, too, have close ties to the Obama Administration.

Their current president and CEO, Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, sits on President Obama’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.

Nancy-Ann DeParle, who sits on the Board of Trustees of the foundation, served as Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy in the Obama Administration from January 2011 until January 2013. Before this, she served as the president’s Health Care Czar and led the administrations effort to pass Obamacare. She is referred to as the administrations “point guard” for overhauling the American health care system.

This isn’t the first time the “non-partisan” Families USA will help the Obama administration rebuild the image of the law.

Every year, FUSA puts on the Health Care Action (HCA) conference. During the 15th HCA conference in January 2010 before the law passed, White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett told those in attendance that the fight for new legislation was not nearly over. “You have been out there in the trenches working with us every single day. On behalf of President Obama, I want to have the pleasure of thanking you. […] I want to reassure you he has not given up on this.”

Later that year,  FUSA partnered with the Obama administration with the goal of rebuilding the image of the unpopular health care bill.

Anita Dunn, former communications director for the administration, and Andrew Grossman, a top Democratic strategist who coordinated grassroots efforts in 2009 for health care reform, came up with a plan that would last until 2014 consisting of “road shows” with the intent of being “media-centric.”

“Those events are intended to be media-centric,” Pollack said of the nationwide public relations plan. “We devote a lot of time before and after to meet with editorial boards, to do radio and TV interviews and sit down with local reporters.”

In 2011, after the annual HCA conference convened, FUSA put together a document titled, “Messaging Cheat Sheet: Mastering the 30-Second Sound Byte.” The document contained ways to answer difficult questions being asked from reporters or the public.

1stcheatsheet

“At the Families USA Health Action 2011 Conference in January, we convened a plenary session that presented the findings of focus group and polling research about how to talk about the Affordable Care Act with the public. As part of this plenary, we asked the audience of state advocates from across the country to submit examples of questions that they have been asked by the public or reporters and that they struggle to answer; many more questions were submitted than our panelists had time to answer,” it states.

Within the 26-page document, there are questions dealing with addressing health care costs and premium increases, effects on the health insurance industry, business, and jobs. Also discussed are questions on provider concerns, repeal efforts, and coverage issues.

Here is a sample question from the document dealing with Republican opposition:

Question: One major concern raised by Republicans and other opponents of the law is that it busts the budget. Did Congress burden our children with the cost of health reform?

No. Prevention saves money. Controlling waste, fraud, and abuse in health care saves money. Controlling industry greed saves money. Patient-focused health care saves money. Efficient delivery of services saves money. Not depending on emergency rooms saves money. And all these improvements are part of the new law.

 

In truth, the Affordable Care Act reduces the deficit. Congress’s official scorekeeper—the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office—estimated that the Affordable Care Act would reduce the federal deficit over the next 10 years. And earlier this year, when Republicans in the House wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act—the official scorekeeper estimated that repealing the law would actually increase the deficit.

 

Fixing health care will strengthen the economy by keeping more Americans healthy and by making coverage more affordable for families and for businesses. Healthier workers are more productive. American businesses will be more competitive in global markets.

Throughout 2011, the group was cited numerous times by mainstream news outlets as an unbiased source in showing immediate “positive signs’ emerging from the law without reference to their liberal bend.

For example, a report from CBS News hyped Medicaid and Medicare sob stories, while calling them “an advocacy group for health care consumers.” They were used again by CBS to play up Obamacare’s “early success” while referring to Ron Pollack as a “patients rights advocate” with no mention of his liberal agenda.

Now, they will try once again to do damage control for the White House and Democrats.

The media recently used them to show signs of life from the law amid a sea of bad news – as displayed by The Huffington Post and The Washington Post just last week. Both outlets touted a “study” from the group that supposedly shows positive signs from the law. The Washington Post even gave it the headline, “Want to debate Obamacare’s cancellations? You need to see this study first.”

Enroll America is sending emails with “success stories” of people signing up for Obamacare through the faulty healthcare.gov website– the purpose of the grant given to Families USA and a tactic they have used previously.

While the group doesn’t hide the fact they’re in favor of the law, they are used as an “independent” group when referenced by the media. This is the case despite being tied to Enroll America and their close proximity to the Obama administration.

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Joe Schoffstall

Joe Schoffstall is a Reporter and Editor at Capitol City Project. Previously, he worked as a Multimedia Reporter at the Media Research Center (MRCTV, CNSNews.com).

His work has been featured on numerous outlets including the Drudge Report, Fox News, CBS News, ABC News, Yahoo News, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Huffington Post-- among many others.

You can contact Joe by emailing Joe@CapitolCityProject.com.
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