Campbell-Mithun in middle: Democrats blast Medicare ad push as a political play

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A Bush administration ad touting Medicare prescription drug coverage in a government-paid ad campaign two years before the benefit takes effect is being ripped by Democrats as election-year politics.

It's also landed Interpublic Group of Co.s' Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., amid a debate over whether the Department of Health and Human Services should be running the ads. "If they want to run these ads, they should pay for them with campaign funds, not taxpayer dollars," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said last week of the $12 million ad campaign that broke Feb. 10. The ad agency referred comment on the ad to the government.

National Media, Alexandria, Va., which is handling the Bush campaign, bought the media, which has raised further eyebrows among the Democrats.


Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson described the ad as the first part of an effort to inform people about the new benefits, which include a Medicare discount drug card and, starting in 2006, prescription drugs. "We're going to let [seniors] know what benefits are coming and when."

The mention of the availability of prescription drugs two years before that program starts, however, has been controversial. Several weeks ago, announcement of plans to include details of that benefit in a brochure sent to all 36 million Medicare recipients later this month drew complaints from Democrats.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., complained specifically about the touting of the 2006 benefits, suggesting the timing of the mention appeared political.

`fact-based' effort

Department spokesman Bill Pierce said it was the Democrats who are politicizing the matter. "There are certain people who are on the other side who are interested in playing politics," he said, calling the education effort "fact-based" and "straightforward."

The ad has also drawn fire from, whose request to air a Super Bowl ad (concerning a different subject) was rejected by Viacom's CBS on grounds that the ad was issue advocacy. MoveOn said last week that since CBS accepted the HHS ad, it should have to accept an ad opposing the Medicare plan.

"The Medicare ad that CBS is airing is blatant issue advocacy," said Eli Pariser, MoveOn's national campaign director.

CBS acknowledged it is running the ad, but said it was accepted because "it steers information to seniors about Medicare."

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