The faces are the same, but the message certainly isnt.
Harry and Louise, the fictional hand-wringing couple who appeared on television 15 years ago in a series of ads meant to kill parts of the Clinton administrations health plan, returned to the airwaves last week, but this time with a message urging reform. Its a role-reversal tailor-made for Hollywood.
Harry and Louise, of course, are a little bit older, but they are a whole lot wiser, said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA.
The ad, which will run on network and cable stations through the Democratic and Republican conventions featuring the original actors reprising their roles, show the iconic couple concerned over the high cost of healthcare and growing number of uninsured. Whoever the next president is, healthcare should be at the top of his agenda, Louise says. Bring everyone to the table and make it happen.
In 1993, the ads featured the same couple, only then railing against parts of the Clinton package that would have diminished the role of private insurers in favor of increased government control. At the time, the ads were funded by the insurance lobby.
This time around, however, private insurers are onboard. Karen Ignagni, president and chief executive officer of Americas Health Insurance Plans, said her industry supports the campaign. The last time around, our industry did not have a plan. We reacted to other plans.
The new ad unveiled last week at a Washington news conference is being funded by a coalition of groups, including the American Hospital Association, Catholic Health Association, Families USA, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and the National Federation of Independent Businessthe last of which was a vocal critic of the Clinton plan. The ad can be viewed at harryandlouisereturn.com.
Policy experts said that they see the about-face not just as an industrywide occurrence, but one that mirrors the general publics shifting thoughts on health reform as well.
The turnaround in the ads reflects, to some extent, the turnaround in the country, said Joseph Antos, a health policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington. Fifteen years ago, most people were not ready to talk seriously about health reform no matter how much enthusiasm there was in Washington.
Now, Antos said, theres a higher degree of concern and urgency around the country, much of which is focused on rising costs.
When President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, his reform agenda got pushed to the back burner by a series of contentious debates over trade policy, balancing the budget and military protocols. Now, We want to make sure that healthcare reform is the top and earliest domestic priority for the next president, Pollack said.
Where the Clinton plan was parceled together largely in the dark and with few stakeholders involved, members of Congress have already convened a number of hearings and conferences on the matter, said Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change. In addition, many of the same groups that aligned against each other have come together, at least in theory, in pushing reform as a top issue. The health policy community believes it has learned a lot, and the lessons from that are not being forgotten, he said.