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Exchange board hires firm that produced poll sympathetic to state insurance exchange

Exchange board hires firm that produced poll sympathetic to state insurance exchange

Dustin Hurst
July 22, 2013
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July 22, 2013
[post_thumbnail] During the debate on creating a state health insurance exchange, the Idaho Hospital Association distributed a letter to legislators, including Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, urging support. It also contracted for a poll that said the exchange was supported by 74 percent of Idahoans. The poll was conducted by a firm recently awarded a contract by the exchange board.

A key firm that helped push Idaho lawmakers toward creating a state-based health exchange during the Legislature’s 2013 session is now reaping rewards from its work.

The Idaho health exchange board announced last week a $200,000 public relations contract with three firms—Gallatin Public Affairs, GS Strategy Group and Burson-Marsteller, an industry giant.

For the money, the exchange board hired at least one firm well-versed on the issue: During the height of the tense debate over whether Idaho lawmakers would create a state-run exchange or let the federal government build the online insurance marketplace, GS Strategy provided a poll that reportedly helped sway many legislators to the state model.

The Idaho Hospital Association (IHA), a supporter of a state-based exchange, in February released the poll showing that 74 percent of Idahoans supported letting the state take the lead on the project.

GS Strategy, founded by Greg Strimple, conducted that survey.

“A poll commissioned by the Idaho Hospital Association has persuaded some reluctant lawmakers to take another look at a state-run health exchange and reassured others that a ‘yes’ vote is safe,” the Idaho Statesman wrote in early March about the GS Strategy survey.

In addition to the poll, the group released blog posts, tweets and videos during the debate.

The group also sent legislators individual letters pushing the results of the GS Strategy poll.

“We urge your support,” wrote IHA President Steve Millard in a Feb. 12 letter to Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace. “It is the best choice for Idaho.”

Just a few months later, and GS Strategy now calls the health exchange a client. The exchange board awarded Gallatin Public Affairs, a Spokane, Wash.-based firm stocked with seasoned political players including former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus, Marc Johnson and lobbyist Lyn Darrington, a contract for outreach and polling work. Gallatin, in turn, asked GS Strategy to do polling. The two groups announced a joint venture, G Squared Wins, last year.

Jody Olson, the health exchange’s communication director, told IdahoReporter.com she was unaware that GS Strategy performed the IHA’s poll during the legislative showdown. She said she “wasn’t here” when IHA released its polling data to the Legislature.

Does it look strange to her that a key figure in the push to adopt the state-based exchange is now earning thousands and thousands of dollars from the entity it helped create?

“I can’t speak to that,” Olson said.

GS Strategy didn’t return two calls looking for comment on the issue.

The IHA-backed poll wasn’t without controversy after its initial release.

Lou Esposito, at Spartac Consulting, another Boise-based polling firmed, disputed the IHA’s numbers. “That number is simply not credible, given the vast data available showing deep hostility to Obamacare within the state,” Esposito told the Idaho Statesman at the time.

Just a few months earlier, Spartac, working on behalf of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, released its own exchange polling data, showing a mere 18 percent of Idahoans supported creating the online insurance marketplace.

Why the difference in the two polls?

Timing may have played an important part, Esposito explained last week. Spartac’s poll came in fall of 2012, long before lobbyists and interest groups started ad campaigns to support the state-based model. GS Strategy took its poll in February.

If GS Strategy Group’s figures were off, it wouldn’t be the first time in recent memory the firm provided an inaccurate look at Idahoans’ opinions. In August 2010, GS Strategy released a poll showing that Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick led by 23 points then-state Rep. Raul Labrador, a Republican from Eagle, in that year’s congressional contest.

Labrador went on to win the contest by nearly 10 points.

Note: The Idaho Freedom Foundation publishes IdahoReporter.com.

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