Covered Cal video: Simmons-gate

The six-hour Covered California video show featuring Richard Simmons has emerged as the campaign centerpiece for Ted Gaines, who is running for state insurance commissioner in 2014.

Covered California video stream imageGaines, a state senator, is calling for a state audit of Covered California. The Covered California online video was, he says: a “wasteful, unserious and insulting effort” — an “ineffective and embarrassing” marketing effort.

The Jan. 16 “Tell a Friend — Get Covered” video stream featured Olivia Wilde, Billy Eirchner, Fran Drescher and Tatyana Ali. None of the celebrity guests was paid.

The show began with a dance-off between aging fitness guru Simmons and a contortionist. Simmons, in red stretch pants, appeared to invite mounting by lying on his back with his legs spread wide in the air.

“It was as if the audio-visual club got wasted on malt liquor and hijacked public access television,” Chris Deaton of the conservative web site Red Alert Politics noted.

All four of the home page items on Gaines’ campaign web site featured slams of the “Tell a Friend, Get Covered” infomercial/marathon. Gaines runs a family insurance business.

Gaines, vice chair of the Senate Insurance Committee, presumably faces incumbent Dave Jones in the November election. Jones has been a supporter of the Affordable Care Act and Covered California, but has criticized the state Obamacare operation’s management on several issues, including the cancellation of existing healthcare policies.

Gaines charged on Twitter that Jones and Covered California “have done little more than argue about how to rearrange the deck chairs on the sinking ship that is Obamacare.”

Gaines’ letter of Jan. 18 to Covered California chief Peter Lee read in part:

I am worried this infomercial indicates that Covered California disregards the welfare of working Californians and ignores the fiscal challenges facing your agency. Covered California is expected to face a $78 million shortfall in fiscal year 2015/16. I question whether this is the time to pour tax dollars into what appears to be an ineffective and embarrassing quarter-day long marketing effort.

Lee addressed the media mockery of the video in a statement:

Covered California’s programs such as “Tell a Friend — Get Covered” feature content that resonates among millennials and that can be spread by millennials to their friends and loved ones. Millennials are not only our key audience, they also are our ambassadors in spreading the word about Covered California.

(“Millennials” generally are defined as people born in the 1980s or 1990s.)

The “Tell a Friend” show was created by Maker Studios and Funny or Die. Publicity outfit Ogilvy Entertainment spread the word.

Covered California has received several significant grants from the federal government to promote its offerings to target key in the state, among them the “young invincibles” presumably targeted by the broadcast.

Insurance Commissioner candidate Ted GainesGaines, right, requested the audit via the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. Covered California said it was dedicated to transparency and was ready to share details of its financial investments.

Dave Jones, an Assemblyman from the 50th district, won election in 2010, defeating seven candidates that included both a Democratic and Republican Assembly member.

Prior to the Simmons-gate scandal, Gaines’ Twitter account appeared mostly focused on GOP criticisms of Obamacare and the Sacramento Kings basketball team.

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