New ‘Offbeat’ Medicare Ads Feature Actor Leslie Nielsen
To "change its image as a burned-out bureaucracy," CMS has launched a $30 million national television advertising campaign to promote a new toll-free Medicare hotline, the Baltimore Sun reports. The ads, which feature 75-year-old actor Leslie Nielsen, star of the "Naked Gun" films, promote 1-800-MEDICARE and "boast a commitment to customer service" with an "offbeat pitch." In one ad, for example, Nielsen is shown using the hotline to order food, while in another, he "heaps daffy praise" on the call centers, saying, "They'll even tell you what Medigap is, which is important to those who have a gap in their medi." CMS Administrator Thomas Scully said, "I want people to think, 'Hey these guys are willing to break some china, do things outside the box.' The goal is to give seniors better service and get them to pick up the phone." CMS has added 1,000 operators to agency call centers, which now operate 24 hours a day. Since the ads began to air in October, calls to the hotline have more than doubled, agency officials said. The ads, which earned Nielsen between $250,000 and $300,000, represent part of a new "culture of responsiveness" that Scully has promoted among Medicare employees. However, the ads have prompted Medicare advocacy groups to "assail" CMS for "spending nearly three times more" on television advertising than on national patient education programs for seniors. Some critics also criticized the ads slapstick comedy as "offensive" to seniors and "too flip for its own good." James Firman, head of the National Council on the Aging, said, "I just couldn't understand why an organization that's trying to inspire confidence in people and has sort of an image problem anyway would want to co-brand with a character known for bungling incompetence." Medicare officials said that "only one in 20 seniors surveyed objected to the tone" of the ads (Gamerman, Baltimore Sun, 12/14).