The Department of Health and Human Services has inked a $20 million contract with a top public-relations firm to sell aspects of the Obamacare law to the American public.

According to a report in PR Week, HHS’s Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has awarded the contract to PR firm Porter Novelli. The firm has offices worldwide, and boasts PepsiCo, Hewlett Packard, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as existing clients.

According to The Hill, the Porter Novelli campaign is “designed to educate the public about how to stay healthy and prevent illnesses.” It will do so by highlighting provisions of Obamacare.

The PR push is part of a sustained effort to try to sell the unpopular Obamacare law to the American public. Last year, HHS asked Congress to quadruple the budget for its public affairs office – to nearly $20 million – and nearly double the size of the office’s staff. The department insisted the changes were necessary to “help Americans understand and access their benefits and information under the law.”

A Freedom of Information Act request filed by the group Judicial Watch last year revealed the lengths to which HHS has gone to attempt to sell Obamacare to a skeptical public:

  • The Obama HHS launched a campaign to track Internet searches and to use online search engines such as Google and Yahoo to drive traffic to a government website promoting Obama’s health care overhaul. Using “pay-per-click” advertising tools, such as Google Adwords, HHS purposely targeted people searching the term “Obamacare,” a word that has been described as “disparaging” by political agents of the president.
  • According to a budget summary prepared by Ogilvy, from October 2010 through February 2011, the Obama administration spent $1,435,009 on these online advertisements alone, including advertising campaigns with Google and Yahoo, almost $300,000 per month.
  • A number of documents address the need to target the Obamacare propaganda campaign to Hispanics, blacks, and women. For example, according to an email from Chris Beakey, vice president of Ogilvy PR Worldwide, to HHS officials on Dec. 16, 2010, summarizing a conference call, “You want to utilize the bulk of their paid media efforts (which would include expenditures for Radio One and Univision) on media that reaches African Americans and Hispanics. The money will go farther and these audiences continue to be a top priority.”
  • A Jan. 18, 2011, email from Ogilvy to HHS New Media Communications Director Julia Eisman notes with respect to a Spanish banner ad campaign, “I realize we really can’t use the blond mom and child for this audience.”

The Obama administration has also coordinated with liberal activist groups and friendly media organizations to spin the law in a positive light. Scribe published a four-page strategy memo in March that revealed the White House’s comprehensive public-relations campaign for the second anniversary of Obamacare and Supreme Court oral arguments.

This isn’t the first time HHS has tried to convince the American people about the benefits of a government-run health care program. After passage of a controversial Medicare prescription drug plan in 2003, the Bush administrated budgeted $123.6 million for ads touting the program. Some of the TV ads associated with the campaign drew fire for using actors who posed as journalists.