GOP targets Begich over Affordable Care Act - with ad that airs just once

Lisa Demer
Bill Roth

The Republican National Committee announced Tuesday a fresh round in an expected torrent of campaign ads targeting Sen. Mark Begich and other Democrats for their part in the "lie of the year," an assurance that people could keep existing health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The ad blast turned out to be more of a sprinkle.

In Anchorage, a single radio ad aimed at Begich was set to air on a single station -- 650 KENI -- one time on Tuesday, according to a check of the political ad buys at the two major radio conglomerates in Anchorage.

The total cost to the Republican National Committee for the Anchorage radio airtime? $30.

Begich's campaign says the RNC also is airing ads minimally in other markets around the country in which Democrats are being criticized over the Affordable Care Act.

In Fairbanks, the same ad is airing once on KFBX radio at a cost of $25, according to Begich's campaign.

Republicans made a big deal over the ads anyway. On Tuesday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called a news conference in Washington, D.C., to pitch the campaign -- and the GOP's anti-Affordable Care Act message.

Reporters from Time, The Huffington Post, Politico and various newspapers all posted stories or blog items about the new push against Democrats. The Associated Press reported the ads would be running in 40 media markets.

The committee wouldn't say how much it was spending.

Asked whether calling attention to an ad campaign that was so minimal was misleading, RNC spokesman Michael Short emailed an answer: "That is one of the most ridiculous questions I have ever fielded." He earlier called the Alaska ads in Fairbanks and Anchorage a "statewide" effort.

The Republican National Committee, which is making the nation's new health care law a centerpiece in its effort to retake the U.S. Senate, said it was launching radio ads against a number of Democrats starting Tuesday over "lies" about Americans getting to keep current insurance.

"So what's your New Year's resolution?" a woman says on the Alaska version, as "Auld Land Syne" plays softly in the background. "Here's one you can keep. Resolve to keep Sen. Mark Begich honest in 2014."

The ads are hammering Begich and other Democrats who, along with President Obama, said something to the effect of "if you like your plan, you can keep it."

"They lied to you. Big time. PolitiFact called that the 'lie of the year,' " the voice on the radio says.

As it turns out, insurance plans that lack key benefits and that were significantly changed after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law in 2010 will be canceled after this year, unless Congress votes to extend the deadline. Insurance plans that fail to meet minimum standards originally were supposed to be abolished even sooner but Obama, facing a barrage of criticism about his promise, announced in November that insurers could keep offering them through the end of 2014.

In December 2009, after the Senate passed the health care reform law, Begich issued a written statement saying he supported the measure and expected it would improve the lives of Alaskans. He also said, "Alaskans who have health insurance now, and are happy with it, can keep it."

His campaign manager, Susanne Fleek-Green, says he "voted to allow Alaskans to keep their current plans with the understanding insurance companies would keep plans as they were."

The senator is working hard to fix the law and "a sound bite and political attack ad don't change his commitment to finding solutions to provide quality affordable care for Alaskans," she said in a emailed statement.

He's proposed a new insurance option for people seeking coverage on government-run marketplaces that would feature lower premiums and higher out-of-pocket costs. He's also co-sponsoring a measure to allow customers to keep existing coverage through 2015.

When two insurance companies, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield and Moda Health, agreed to extend plans serving thousands of Alaskans, Begich wrote to Gov. Sean Parnell urging the state to give them quick approval.

Premera is the biggest private insurer in Alaska with about 100,000 members, mainly through group plans.

Of the 9,000 or so individuals covered in Alaska by Premera, just under 5,400 were faced with losing their insurance before the reprieve, said Premera spokesman Eric Earling. Premera reenrolled them, though they could opt out by Dec. 31. Most likely will stick with their old plans, which generally should be less expensive than what's offered on the federally-run insurance marketplace unless the individual qualifies for a subsidy, Earling said. Some objected to requirements that new plans offer pediatric dental care and maternity care, even for a single man with no children, he said.

Moda also re-enlisted 1,200 individuals whose plans were at the brink of cancellation, though some also may have decided to get other insurance in the meantime, said Jason Gootee, Moda Health's regional manager for Alaska. At any rate, Moda would have transferred its members over to other policies and wouldn't have left them without coverage, he said.

In November, a Koch- brothers funded group, Americans for Prosperity, began airing television ads that featured a woman who talked like she was an Alaska voter unhappy with Begich over "Obamacare" but who really was an actress from Maryland.

In response, a pro-Begich super PAC being run by Anchorage political consultant Jim Lottsfeldt launched its own ads "to set the record straight." In the Put Alaska First ads, an Anchorage resident, Megan Collie, praised Begich for trying to repair the health care law. She noted that he signed up for his own family's coverage on the same Website used by Alaskans, giving up a subsidy that he could have qualified for through a Washington, D.C., site for federal officials.

Besides Begich, the Republican National Committee is targeting these Democrats: Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Udall of Colorado, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Mark Warner of Virginia as well as Reps. Bruce Braley of Iowa, Gary Peters of Michigan, Tim Bishop of New York and Nick Rahall of West Virginia.

In Louisiana, the ads are being aired in Vietnamese as well as English; in Virginia, they're airing in Korean and Spanish; and in Colorado, Spanish.

Short, the RNC spokesman, said the message remains on point.

"The purpose of these ads is to highlight the fact Mark Begich and President Obama lied about people being able to keep their insurance and doctors under Obamacare," he said in an email. "The fact Democrats spent a day trying to figure out the size of an ad buy rather than refuting the claims in the ad proves we are onto something."

Democrats say that's a tired message.

Reach Lisa Demer at or 257-4390.


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