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Read Making a Killing

home / healthcare / in the media

Jan 18, 2000

by Julie Appleby

TV ads return to lament plight of uninsured

Harry and Louise, the TV ad characters used by the insurance industry to help defeat President Clinton's health reform plan, take to the airwaves again Wednesday.

Six years after the reform plan failed, are Harry and Louise uninsured? Well, no.

But they are worried about the plight of the 44 million Americans without health insurance.

That's the message the Health Insurance Association of America (HIAA) wants to portray in its $ 1 million advertising campaign, which uses the original Harry and Louise actors to tout the trade group's plan for helping the uninsured.

The irony is not lost on the trade group -- or its critics.

"Do HMOs really believe that Americans will buy that the insurance industry cares about the uninsured?" says HMO critic Jamie Court of Consumers for Quality Care.

The insurance group is not dissuaded by such criticism.

"Whenever an advocacy group runs ads, there's always cynicism," says Chip Kahn, president of the HIAA. "But I would hope that some of the people we've been at odds with in the past would appreciate our sincerity on this issue and join with us in pursuing it."

The ads appear just days after the insurance industry joined with patient advocacy groups, hospitals, unions, doctors and nurses in a summit aimed at finding ways to solve the problem of the uninsured. The HIAA plan proposes expanding federal programs to more low-income adults, providing $ 2,000 federal vouchers to certain lower-income workers and giving tax credits to small businesses. The ads will air on cable TV's CNN and appear in several newspapers.

Harry and Louise made their debut in 1993 in what became a $ 17 million ad campaign stretching into 1994. Their beef? Clinton's proposed health reform plan to reshape the health insurance system in the USA with the aim of guaranteeing health care for all. The pair raised questions about whether the plan would put limits on health care.

"They became symbolic of middle-class anxiety over the Clinton plan," says Harvard health policy professor Robert Blendon.

Ron Pollack of the advocacy group Families USA, which supported the Clinton plan, is working with longtime foe HIAA and other groups to find solutions.

His take on the revival of Harry and Louise?

"I'm very pleased that HIAA is finally using Harry and Louise to speak on behalf of expanded coverage," Pollack says.

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