Failing at a state-run insurance exchange embraced by several other progressive states, Illinois officials had belatedly formed a partnership with the federal government by the spring of 2013. Up against the wall and with a generous federal grant, officials in the cash-strapped state constructed the deluxe contract to sell the idea of what pro-Republican political ads were attacking as "Obamacare."
"It seems like it was a heavily front-loaded effort and it was. It was all hands on deck," said FleishmanHillard senior partner Jack Modzelewski, arguing Illinois got good value for the price, despite the late start.
Jerry Swerling, director of public relations studies at the University of California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, said it wasn't surprising that the spending escalated — especially with the technical problems of the federal HealthCare.gov website.
"You have responsibility for a hugely controversial program that's become a political hot button," said Swerling, who wasn't involved in the contract. "You're now charged with getting people to enroll in a system, the highest profile element of which is frozen. How do you instill confidence and credibility when the system isn't working?"
Paying the best rates encourages work by high-level professionals, said Jose Munoz, the state's chief marketing officer for the campaign. A task-based contract, on the other hand, yields work by junior level staff to increase the profit margin for the agency. "You end up having shoddy work," Munoz said. "At the end of the day, it comes down to managing the vendor."
The AP analysis of the first $9.6 million spent on the "Get Covered Illinois" campaign — the first four months of the 12-month, $33 million contract — is a limited snapshot. State officials are still dissecting the billing for December through March. The documents reviewed by AP show: