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Tina Kotek, Alan Bates Raise Concerns about Advertising Campaign

Legislators question why the Oregon Health Authority allowed Health Share to launch an advertising campaign targeting prospective members
November 13, 2013
Since the Oregon Health Plan got underway in the 1990s, health plans have been prohibited from posting advertisements on billboards and in community newspapers, soliciting prospective members. The same holds true for coordinated care organizations that rely on state and federal funds to take care of Medicaid members.   But an interpretation by the Oregon Health Authority now allows these CCOs to engage in marketing, as long as they don’t attempt to attract new members, but only convey information about education and community activities.   Health Share of Oregon started posting billboards and doing other marketing after getting approval from the OHA, according to its spokesperson, Beth Sorensen, calling the campaign “advertising” in a memo sent to The Lund Report.   “We have been working with staff at the Oregon Health Authority since this past spring on the content of our outreach efforts,” Sorenson said. “OHA approved the content of this ad campaign, as well as approving both the design concepts and the types of media used. We did not receive any special exception to the state’s rules and regulations. We believe we are in full compliance with all relevant rules and regulation.”    When asked how much money Health Share was spending on advertising, Sorensen declined to answer.    But this advertising campaign isn’t going over very well with legislators, among them House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland).    “The speaker believes that enrollment should not be a problem for the CCOs, and that it is inappropriate for Medicaid dollars to be used on advertising.  She does not believe we should be making the rules more permissive when it comes to the ability of CCOs to advertise,” according to Kotek’s communication director, Jared Mason-Gere.     Sen. Alan Bates (D-Medford) called such action inappropriate. “I couldn’t agree with Speaker Kotek more. It is inappropriate for CCOs to be advertising to attract patients; they should be enrolling them by offering a patient-centered approach to medical care. “   Other coordinated care organizations throughout the state are calling foul, saying Health Share received preferential treatment, and insist its marketing campaign is nothing more than advertising.    Among the CCOs caught off guard with the new “marketing guidelines” was Willamette Valley Community Health, according to Ruth A. Rogers Bauman, board chair, who’s also the CEO of ATRIO Health Plan.    Bauman said she learned about the policy change after Health Share had been given permission to advertise, but never received earlier notification.    “I just assumed the state didn’t want us spending taxpayer dollars on advertising,” Bauman told The Lund Report. “The state has historically taken the responsibility for outreach and having people sign up.    “We have suggested to OHA that when there is a major policy change, they should notify the CEOs rather than rely on the various other committees to understand the import and implications,” she added. “The marketing rule has been long standing and ingrained in OHP contractors as verboten. We appreciate the flexibility of the new rule. But since it is a significant change, the communication should have been more thorough.”   In response, Patty Wentz, spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority, said everything was discussed in an open process prior to giving Health Share permission.     The marketing guidelines were discussed with the CCOs and the public in two public meetings of the Member Engagement and Outreach Committee on September 18 and on October 16th,, she told The Lund Report.      ” In our guidance that was shared in two public meetings we also note that good topics for information to the general public could include ‘information about the CCO, the CCO’s Advisory Committee, and the CCO’s role in community health.’ You can’t, however, say anything that directly solicits enrollment in the CCO for the Oregon Health Plan,” she added.     That interpretation doesn’t jive with what Jeff Heatherington, CEO of Family Care, realized after he saw the billboards launched by Health Share, his competitor, in the Portland area.  “The Oregon Health Authority got caught and gave Health Share permission to advertise in June or July while the rest of us didn’t know the rules had been changed,” he told The Lund Report. “When we started asking questions, they finally released the new rules. Advertising has been against the rules and prohibited since the Oregon Health Plan began and one day, for reasons no one can understand, Health Share is given permission to advertise, while federal rules prohibit advertising. Is this the way the state wants to do business by making decisions in the back room and is this the way the state wants us to spend our healthcare dollars? “    Heatherington did admit that Family Care has been promoting its Medicare Advantage Plan on billboards, MAX trains and in local newspapers, saying this is above board.     Bill Guest, executive director of Cascade Comprehensive Care, also hadn’t been told in advance about the policy decision allowing advertising. “As I understand it, the reasons they didn’t want us to advertise is because the state didn’t want us spending taxpayer dollars on marketing and it’s the state’s responsibility to identify who provides the services in a given community.”   Diane can be reached at [email protected].    


Submitted by Dan Fielding on Thu, 12/12/2013 - 13:52 Permalink

Beth Sorensen needs to make a public statement and detail the amount of Money that Healthshare is spending on Advertising. It is a longtme and well known rule that OHPO contractors are NOT allowed to advertise- for Healthshare of Oregon to so blatantly ignore that rule- well I think it's a reflection of how they are being run and how they are operating. I hope that Janet Meyer and her cronies are held accountable and penalized.