Democrats blast new effort for drug card

WASHINGTON: A GOP public affairs shop and a grassroots advocacy group won unwelcomed attention last week for offering $4,000 to healthcare consultants who could provide senior citizens willing to publicly praise the new Medicare drug discount card.

WASHINGTON: A GOP public affairs shop and a grassroots advocacy group won unwelcomed attention last week for offering $4,000 to healthcare consultants who could provide senior citizens willing to publicly praise the new Medicare drug discount card.

Democrats and government watchdog groups slammed DCI and Retire Safe for what they called an "artificial grassroots campaign."

"It is pathetic, but not surprising, that front groups allied with the Bush administration are using the worst marketing tactics of HMOs and drug companies to 'sell' seniors their terrible Medicare bill," House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told The Hill newspaper. "Paying health professionals to endorse federal legislation is wrong."

DCI referred calls to Retire Safe, its client. The group issued a statement defending itself but did not deny the claims.

"Critics have been running a campaign against this bill for a year or more - our effort is tiny compared to the massive opposition, based on misinformation and scare tactics," it read. "We hope that through our efforts, more seniors learn about the benefits of the bill."

Public affairs efforts on both sides of the Republican-backed Medicare reform bill have been intense. The investigative arm of Congress earlier this year faulted Ketchum and HHS for crossing the line in their publicly funded campaign to "explain" the bill to seniors, finding instead that they were promoting it.

And Public Interest Watch, a watchdog group for the abuse of public funds, later accused Ketchum of advocating both sides of the issue for its work with the American Society of Clinical Oncology (PRWeek, September 13).

Charles Rangel (D-NY), the House Ways and Means Committee ranking member, was quoted in The Hill as saying, "I don't know if there is better testimony that the Republican drug card is a flop than the fact that a Republican political group is offering bounties to anyone who finds that rare senior who might say publicly that they like it."

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