Access Health CT, the health-insurance exchange implementing Obamacare in Connecticut, paid a marketing firm millions in part to “engage key legislators” but contends the agreement does not violate a ban on lobbying by quasi-public state agencies.
The original $7.2 million agreement with marketing consultant Pappas MacDonnell included $59,900 for a “legislative communications strategy.”
“The quick answer is, NO they do NOT do any lobbing for us, they are a Marketing Firm only,” said Kathleen Tallarita, spokeswoman for Access Health and a former state representative.
State agencies, including quasi-publics, are not allowed to hire lobbyists.
The agreement describes the goal of legislative communications:
“To establish Access Health CT as the marketplace for quality, affordable health insurance in Connecticut, Pappas MacDonnell will immediately engage key legislators to ensure that they understand what Access Health CT is, how it functions, its impact on Connecticut’s health insurance marketplace, and the potential implications of legislative action (or inaction) in the upcoming sessions.”
Connecticut law defines lobbying, with a few exceptions, as:
“communicating directly or soliciting others to communicate with any official or his staff in the legislative or executive branch of government or in a quasi-public agency, for the purpose of influencing any legislative or administrative action.”
Pappas designated its subcontractor, public affairs and lobbying firm Grossman Heinz, to work on the legislative strategy listing three individuals – all billing $300 an hour – Andrew Grossman, Chris Heinz and Lynn Pincus.
The agreement lists “legislation” in a description of the duties of two project managers: Logan Kelly ($75 per hour) and Quynh Tran ($60 per hour).
“As a secondary objective Pappas MacDonnell will also seek out legislators’ input on consumer outreach and Navigator programs to get their buy-in to aid in the coordinated consumer outreach process,” the agreement says.
Access Health agreed to pay Pappas another $10.3 million under an October 2013 addendum that does not mention legislative communications for a total payment of $17.5 million. According to Tallarita, the payments to Pappas include the cost of advertisements purchased by the firm on behalf of Access Health.
Separately, Access Health hired Global Strategy Group to handle public relations.
The Connecticut Health Investigative Team reported earlier this year that Access Health, considered one of the more successful state-based exchanges, spent $156.3 million to start up.
Access Health also paid Pappas $1,650 each for two “CEO messages.” The contract originally called for 15 such messages – totaling $24,750 – but Tallarita said the exchange only sent out two.
Access Health also paid three artists $24,980 each to paint murals.