Two months before enrollment began in the Obamacare exchanges, the administration’s top health care official heaped praise on WebMD for launching an online resource to help Americans navigate the complex law.
The consumer health care site had the occasional nice thing to say about Obamacare, too. In one article, it predicted doctors might pick up more patients and crowed in an article titled “7 Surprising Things About the Affordable Care Act” that many consumers already had received insurance refunds under the law.
But what neither Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius nor WebMD mentioned at the time was that the company, which millions of Americans regularly read for health news, also stood to earn millions of dollars from a federal contract to teach doctors about Obamacare.
The contract documents, reviewed by The Washington Times, reward WebMD handsomely. For instance, the fee schedule offers dozens of products, including:
• As much as $126,826 for a single 5,000-word review article on scientific advances in a clinical topic.
• Up to $68,916 for a four-minute video from an opinion specialist.
• More than $140,000 for an eight-question online quiz.
WebMD says it doesn’t believe it had an obligation to disclose to its broad consumer base its $4.8 million contract with the government. The company says the contract, while awarded to WebMD, went through its Medscape platform, which provides continuing education to doctors in a password-protected portal and is run independently from WebMD’s news operation.The article goes on to describe what some this "funding" is intended for:
Under the contract, awarded through the General Services Administration’s supply schedule, the training services consist of lectures, articles, podcasts and “expert viewpoints” in audio, video or writing, among other presentations. Doctors can get continuing education credits for watching the videos.
A four minute expert viewpoint video — described in GSA documents as a way for “key opinion leaders to offer specific commentaries” — costs the government up to $68,916 under the contract.
An “exclusively sponsored” five- to eight-question quiz “to convey key sponsor messages” costs more than $140,000 under the contract for a three-month term.
Several of the online offerings through Medscape feature CMS personnel discussing Obamacare on video.
“The Health Insurance Marketplace: What does it mean for my practice?” features Dr. Eugene Freund, medical officer for the center for consumer information and insurance oversight at CMS.
In the video, Dr. Freund describes the enrollment, coverage changes, state and federal marketplaces and eligibility, but he also includes a hopeful message to doctors about the benefits of Obamacare.
“First, we should expect big changes in access,” Dr. Freund said on the video. “We should expect to see more patients because there will be an increased number of insured Americans.“The one-shop stopping assistance and the financial assistance based on eligibility, including tax credits to offset cost and cost-sharing subsidies, should increase the number of your patients who now have insurance.”
It’s unclear how much the presentation cost taxpayers, but records list varying prices for videos, including $129,219 for an “originally developed video webcast delivered by a single expert.”