After a four-month hiatus, Harry and Louise, the Health Insurance Association of America's omnipresent healthcare couple, are back with new television ads.
The latest commercials are aimed at combating moves to cap insurance premiums and impose "community rating" on insurers. Under community rating, insurance companies would have to charge the same rate for all customers, regardless of age, sex, geography, tobacco use or other factors affecting health.
The yuppie couple, last seen sitting around the house poring over the Clinton administration's healthcare reform plan, returned last week in a $2 million ad campaign. To date, the HIAA has spent $10 million on "Harry and Louise" ads, according to HIAA President Willis Gradison.
The HIAA ads were pulled from the airwaves when the group struck a deal with then-House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) to halt them in exchange for concessions in the Ways and Means reform plan. Those concessions included allowing limited adjustment in insurance policies for health factors and lowering the size of firms allowed to self-insure to companies with 100 or more employees from those with more than 500.
However, when Mr. Rostenkow-ski's indictment thrust Rep. Sam Gibbons (D-Fla.) into the chairman's seat, the deal was off, according to Mr. Gradison.
The White House has denounced the ads, contending they use fear in an effort to protect the interests of insurance companies while reform legislation is being written.
"They are back with a vengeance and with the same old scare tactics," said Leon Panetta, director of the Office of Management and Budget, in reaction to the new ad campaign. He said the HIAA was trying to "stop healthcare reform at all costs."
The first of the two new ads is aimed at defeating the limits on insurance premium growth included in the Clinton healthcare reform plan as well as the plans being reviewed in the House Ways and Means and House Education and Labor committees. Such premium caps would lead to "long waits for healthcare and some services not even available," the ad charges.
The second ad attacks community rating. The HIAA favors allowing insurance companies to consider age as a factor in determining insurance rates.
In one new 30-second spot, Harry plays basketball with his younger brother, Pat, who complains that his insurance went from $1,200 to $3,200 a year after his state switched to community rating (See related story, p. 136).
Mr. Gradison said that happened in New York after it adopted flat rates for individuals and small groups last year. Premiums shot up for younger workers, and the number of people covered actually fell by 25,477, or 1.2%.
The ads will run on local network affiliates in the District of Columbia, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
The HIAA ads also call for universal coverage. Mr. Gradison criticized the moves in Congress to impose insurance reforms without guaranteeing universal coverage. He said such regulations would encourage uninsured people with health problems to seek coverage and saddle insurers with the worst risks.
"We strongly believe that insurance reforms cannot be fully implemented at 91% (of all Americans covered)," Mr. Gradison said. "You have to be in the high 90s."