WebMD has received nearly $14 million to promote Obamacare, as part of a government initiative designed to get Americans to turn to "official information" on the health care law.
The contract amount is much higher than was previously known, new documents revealed on Tuesday.
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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a "limited source justification" to extend WebMD’s contract through September 2015. The government has obligated a total of $13,932,914 for the "Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Health Care Priorities Educational Initiative" thus far.
The initiative gives funding to the health website WebMD to provide information to doctors and consumers about the "benefits" of the law.
"The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law on March 23, 2010," the contract document states. "As a result, the Act requires that CMS educate consumers about the benefits now available through that legislation."
"Health Care Providers (HCPs) are important partners to assist in this outreach as they interact with the patient in the most crucial time for decision making on health care," it said. "Additionally, CMS handles education on many priority health topics. This task order will allow CMS to reach a broader consumer and HCP audience on the aforementioned topics."
WebMD was first awarded the contract in September 2011. The document released on Tuesday authorizes the company to receive approximately $650,000 more for the "continued education" of consumers through Sept. 15, 2015.
When the government’s deal with WebMD was first revealed last November, the contract was reportedly worth $4.8 million.
"The goal of this task order is to encourage providers and consumers to turn to official information sources regarding the ACA and to create an accurate perception of the ACA among health care providers and consumers," the document said.
HHS decided to stay with WebMD since it has already provided services under the contract for three years, has the greatest reach to doctors, and is "well versed on the intricacies of ACA." They added that a "consistent source of information is critical to the success of the ACA and Marketplace Exchanges."
WebMD devotes a special section to Obamacare on its website, which includes quizzes, videos, and guides to signing up for health insurance on the exchanges.
A "myth or fact" quiz on Obamacare includes answers such as, "In the past, insurance companies didn't treat men and women equally," and relates that "young adults" can stay on their parents’ health plans until they are 26.
Another answer describes the federal marketplace as "sort of like an online travel site for booking tickets." The quiz says that Obamacare will "probably make it harder for people to find a doctor," though the law "does try to help" the doctor shortage.
"For instance, it rewards doctors who work in underserved communities and funds training for new primary care doctors," WebMD says. "However, even with these incentives, some people may still have trouble finding doctors."
A spokesperson for WebMD told the Washington Free Beacon the health care reform section is not part of the contract.
"It is first important to point out that no government agency, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Health & Human Services (HHS) or any other third party funded the creation of WebMD’s editorial content (videos or otherwise) that appears in the WebMD Health Care Reform Center," said Michael Heinley, vice president of corporate communication for WebMD. "The WebMD Health Care Reform Center provides original, independent editorial content produced by WebMD."
"With regard to editorial content, WebMD has strict editorial practices that ensure the content we produce is unbiased and done so independent of any third party involvement or control," he said.
Heinley said the editorial section is completely separate from "sponsored programs," for which they have been paid as part of its contract with HHS.
The contract has funded educational initiatives through Medscape, WebMD’s sister site that provides information for health professionals. The initiative provides programs for doctors on how to talk to patients about the law.
"In the first quarter of this year, CMS sponsored a campaign for consumers on WebMD comprised of two CMS-sponsored content pages that included links to Healthcare.gov," Heinley said. "Again, these pages were clearly marked as sponsored content."
The contract is responsible for the "Understanding the Affordable Care Act and Women’s Health" on WebMD, which is identified on the website as an "educational collaboration" with HHS.
The women’s health site includes a FAQ on birth control, and an article on coverage for new mothers, which includes information on "lactation consultants," a breastfeeding hotline, and how under Obamacare employers have to "offer a private place for you to pump."
Heinley said HHS has to approve all the content that is funded through the contract.
"As with any contract with a government agency, for any funded programs, WebMD must adhere to the federal government’s content clearance policy and requirements," he said. "In developing funded content for CMS or any other federal agency, WebMD adheres to this policy, which requires government agencies to review and approve materials before they are made available in the public domain."