The online health news site WebMD has earned a $4.8 million government contract to promote the president's signature healthcare law, an arrangement that is sparking accusations of a conflict of interest.
In the last few months, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius publicly praised WebMD for launching an online resource to help Americans navigate the new healthcare law, but until now neither WebMD nor the government disclosed the arrangement, The Washington Times reports
"Disclosure and transparency would be a good practice for any recipient of federal funding to promote the administration's healthcare plan," Sen. Chuck Grassley told the Times.
"Even if certain content is not produced with federal funding, but the same company takes federal government money to produce other materials, consumers would be better informed by knowing the financial relationships," the Iowa Republican said.
The company says it was under no obligation to notify its consumer base because the funds are being used to provide continuing education to doctors in a password-protected portal which is run independently from WebMD's news operation, the Times noted.
The company stands to earn as much as $126,826 for a single 5,000-word review article on specific advances in a clinical topic, up to $68,916 for a four-minute video from an opinion specialist, and more than $140,000 for an eight-question online quiz.
The government has nonetheless defended the arrangement, but neither party has released details about how the consumer education program would work.
"As part of our broad outreach and education efforts that we have conducted across CMS programs for years, we are working with Medscape, which is owned by WebMD, to inform Americans about the new opportunity to enroll, many for the very first time, in quality affordable healthcare coverage," said a statement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Times reported.
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