New ad has Medicare flying high

Sunday, November 2, 2003

November 3, 2003

WASHINGTON - CMS Administrator Tom Scully took some heat recently for Medicare’s ballooning expenditures.

In an effort to promote the 1-800-Medicare information line to seniors, Scully Ok’d spending $600,000 to have the number advertised on the side of a blimp, which will fly over sporting events, state fairs and other events where lots of people gather.

Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., asked Scully last week for a “full explanation” of the rationale for spending that much money on blimp advertising.

"While Goodyear and Budweiser can spend their endless amounts of money however they choose, our government needs to be held accountable," Foley told the Washington Times.

Using the blimp, which Scully admitted was his idea, is part of a $30 million advertising campaign to make Medicare better known to beneficiaries.

"I knew that a 1-800-Medicare blimp would get a lot of attention - some good, some bad - but it would get a lot of free press,” he told National Public Radio. “And that was what it was designed to do."

Scully said he thinks the cost of leasing and flying the blimp for four months is the "single most cost-effective advertising we do." It’s designed, he told NPR, to get a laugh and to bolster awareness that the Medicare has a toll-free phone number for the 35 million seniors in the program to call if they have questions about their benefits.