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Vermont Spending Nearly $3 Million on PR for Obamacare Exchange

4:05 PM, Oct 17, 2013 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Vermont has agreed to a $2.8-million contract with a D.C.-based public affairs firm to promote the state's health insurance exchange mandated by Obamacare. As Vermont-based watchdog site reported earlier this week, the administration of Democratic governor Peter Shumlin is paying nearly a third of its $9-million, federally-funded Obamacare "messaging" budget to GMMB, which has offices on K Street in Washington, D.C., as well as in Seattle.

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The $2.8 million contract with GMMB, a Washington, D.C. firm, is about a third of the $9 million in federal dollars the state has for outreach and education: $2.3 million is going to Richmond-based HMC Advertising for media buys, and another $2 million is for so-called “navigators” to provide one-on-one assistance. In all, the state has roughly $170 million from the federal government to launch Vermont Health Connect.

GMMB is spending $500,000 to solicit “earned media,” or positive stories and op-eds in local news outlets. Most of the money is for developing messages for speeches, talking points, news releases, editorial boards and reporters.

Though big businesses and advocacy groups commonly hire media relations firms to audit media companies and spin stories to the press, sources interviewed for this story say state government has not previously spent such prodigious sums on media relations.

The scale of the project, however, is also unprecedented: The state is mandating that 100,000 Vermonters buy insurance on the exchange over a six-month period.

The website also notes that the Vermont online enrollment system has only signed up 141 people since October 1 and that the website "hasn't functioned properly." Read more about the multi-million-dollar contract here.

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