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Health Care Players Hope Holiday Ads Will Break Through

As the contentious health care debate drones on into the holiday season, advocacy groups are looking for creative ways to keep the attention of the public and lawmakers who may be dreaming of a policy-free Christmas.

A coalition that is lobbying for generic drugs decided to incorporate the imagery of holiday gift-giving to prod Congress to pay heed to its concerns.

This week the Coalition for a Competitive Pharmaceutical Marketplace, launched television, radio, banner and print ads that include the warning that “Congress is about to give a big present to the brand drug companies by restricting access to affordable generic and biogeneric medicines.—

“Americans deserve a gift this holiday season,— the spots state. “Real reform that puts patients’ needs over brand drug company profits.—

The ads are accompanied by images of wrapped gifts, including one that is partially opened and filled with paper money. The gift tag states “To: Brand Drug Companies. From: Congress.—

Kathleen Jaeger, president of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, said the ads were an attempt to reach people during a holiday season crowded with other ads.

“The whole point was to pull everyone who is watching in,— she said. “They think they are watching a holiday ad and at the end they get a very powerful policy message.—

Jaeger said she wasn’t worried that some people might be turned off by what may be perceived as critical attack ads during what is billed as a season of goodwill.

“It is not necessarily critical, but it is a call for help,— she said. “We view it as our job to educate the public.—

The first ad buy of a couple hundred thousand dollars will be playing in the Washington, D.C., market and in Connecticut, Maine, Nebraska and Nevada. The print ads are also running in D.C. publications including Roll Call. Jaeger said the coalition plans another ad buy after the holidays, which will not use the gift-buying theme.

“They will probably have a different look and feel. We don’t want to be moot,— she said.

The ads are the first major paid media campaign for the coalition, which also includes several insurance companies, drug companies, and several large companies including General Motors, Xerox and Caterpillar.

The generic drug industry and its allies are opposed to provisions in both the Senate and House health care legislation that would give brand-name drug companies a minimum of 12 years to develop biologic drugs before generics can enter the market. The brand-name drug companies, led by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, have argued that the companies need that time to recoup their investment in these groundbreaking drugs.

But President Barack Obama and others have responded that the brand-name drug companies should have exclusive rights for only a maximum of seven years. They say that to bring health care costs down it is important to get cheaper generic drugs on the market as soon as possible.

PhRMA Vice President Ken Johnson responded to the new ads with a statement saying, “What Americans really need — more than anything else this Christmas — is the truth.—

Johnson said that curing cancer and tackling other complex costly diseases “will take tremendous investment in time and resources. America’s pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies are up to the challenge. And biologics are our best hope.—

Other groups are trying to find catchy ways to keep the public engaged, though not necessarily using the holiday themes.

“We do agree it’s tougher to break through,— said Jacki Schechner, spokeswoman for Health Care for America Now, a liberal group that includes labor unions. Schechner said the coalition now has ads, titled “Freestyle,— running that feature a swimming competition, which is meant to symbolize the race between health care reformers and the insurance companies.

Schechner said the $350,000 ad buy is “different and grabs your attention.—

Other groups are trying novel approaches. The liberal group, on Thursday released a comic Web video featuring a sock puppet of Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) making what they claimed are “outrageous demands in order to gain his support for health care reform.—

The video is part of an appeal by the group to its members to call Congress and oppose Lieberman’s efforts.

The Connecticut Senator recently forced Senate Democrats to drop a plan to allow people between the ages of 55 and 64 to enroll in Medicare.

“We think it’s kinda funny, and surprisingly accurate,— said MoveOn officials in their message to supporters about the sock puppet video.

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