HHS Spent $1.5M in FY2012 on TV Studio Used to Promote Obamacare

Nearly all videos produced by HHS-TV relate to Obamacare

Kathleen Sebelius / AP
October 14, 2013

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is promoting Obamacare through its $1.5 million television studio, which is currently being upgraded for a more "cinematic look."

The agency has five broadcast studios, known as "HHS-TV," that are tasked with communicating with the public in times of emergency, such as a pandemic.  HHS-TV is also used for public service announcements and press conferences.

However, the studio’s operations in recent months have been almost exclusively devoted to promoting Obamacare.

HHS-TV released a video of Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hyping the opening of the health insurance exchanges as "exciting news" on the first day of enrollment on Oct. 1.

"If you’re uninsured, if you thought that good health insurance would never be within your reach, help is on the way," she said.  The studio also provided b-roll for media outlets of the Obamacare Marketplace on its first day.

Another HHS-TV video on Aug. 26 said Obamacare is "great news" for young people. Sebelius attempted to convince young Americans that they should purchase health care.

"Now, some of you may feel like you’re too healthy to need health insurance, or it’s just too expensive," Sebelius said.  "I know how it is.  I have two sons who are young adults.  Their first priority hasn’t always been purchasing health insurance, either."

"But we never know when we’ll get into a car accident, or we’ll need to make that unexpected trip to the E.R.," she said.  "We never know when we get a sudden diagnosis, or when we’ll really need a new prescription."

"Medical care isn’t free; without insurance, we have to pay for all of these things out of our own pockets," Sebelius continued.  "We’re all just an accident or illness away from a devastating medical bill.  So I invite you to visit us at and learn about your new options."

At the end of the message, Sebelius asked young people to "spread the word."

In a video on July 10, Sebelius praised the Obamacare enrollment website as "easy to use."

"To help people get ready, we launched, which was put together with you and your family in mind," she said.  "It’s easy to use, it has a live web chat tool and a 24/7 customer call center to help you out."

"And it’s available in English and Spanish," Sebelius said.

The studio has also produced four "What’s at stake?" videos, which criticize the House of Representatives for voting to repeal Obamacare.

One video targeted at women’s claims that if the law is repealed, one in three women will lose access to birth control.  Another said "young adults" between 19 and 25 will lose coverage through their parents’ plans.

Nearly all of the videos currently on the HHS-TV website promote Obamacare, though one animated video pushes President Obama’s "preschool for all" initiative.

"If you care about children and our nation’s future, you can share this information with those who can help make a difference," the video said.

Taxpayers spent $1.5 million in fiscal year 2012 to operate the HHS broadcast studio, which is used "as a lead component in their communication strategies."

The studio recently upgraded to high definition (HD) and purchased over $37,000 in television production equipment, including the Canon EOS C300 system, which is designed for "cinema industry professionals."

"The success or failure of government initiatives rests on the timely and accurate communication of information," HHS said in its justification for the order.

"The Canon C300 system with Zeiss prime lenses offer a cinematic look called for in certain production situations," the agency said of the purchase.  "Additionally, the Zeiss prime lenses can be adapted to work with our HD studio cameras for a shallow depth of field look when required."

HHS-TV is also looking to purchase studio lighting, upgrade its editing software, and add an archive system.

HHS said the television studio is important in the event of a pandemic flu and will "play a vital role in keeping the public informed."

The studio was refurbished in 2008 for the purpose of disseminating public information on a 24-hour channel on the DISH network.

"Whenever a major natural, health, or manmade emergency occurs in the United States, HHS-TV takes to the airways and the web to keep the public and government officials informed," a press release said.

"To support this expanded mission, HHS-TV's video facilities at its Washington, D.C., headquarters have been ripped out of their 1970s stupor and brought up to 21st century standards," the release said.

HHS did not return requests for comment.