Echoes of ‘Harry and Louise’ ads


Remember “Harry and Louise”? I do. TV ads in which Louise voices her fears of a “government takeover” of health care. Whispers of shortages, denials and “death panels” swept the country. Deep pockets paid for those ads and deep pockets paid for the busloads of tea party protesters who roamed about, spreading fears that, somehow, never materialized with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Years before, in response to the Clinton administration’s ill-fated attempt to establish universal health care, the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation had developed a plan that utilized existing insurance companies to provide coverage for everyone. As governor, Mitt Romney instituted the Heritage plan in Massachusetts. His party backed the plan at that time, but when President Barack Obama wanted to use that same plan nationwide, they renamed it “Obamacare” and fought vociferously against it. Socialism, you know. Government takeover of health care. No choice of doctors. Poor Louise. Poor Harry.

I remember, too, President George W. Bush’s support for Medicare Part D, the prescription drug coverage. The same bill specifically encouraged the development of Medicare Advantage plans, in which the insurer would get the money that we paid into Medicare,as well as additional premiums paid separately by each enrollee. The hope was that these managed care plans would be so well accepted that traditional Medicare would eventually fade away, leaving the field once more to the private insurance companies. This same bill also forbade Medicare from negotiating prices with drug companies, a restriction that did not apply to private insurers. The Advantage plans were widely accepted, and no one seemed to notice or care that the “drug formulary” sent out by each insurer, along with the “tier levels” of drugs and the list of “participating pharmacies” were, in effect, the insurance companies telling us what drugs we could take, and where we could buy them. These decisions were made based upon the prices they negotiated with drug companies. Now Congress considers allowing Medicare the same right to negotiate. Outrage! Socialism! People will die! Have you seen those commercials? Shades of Harry and Louise.

Lola Johnson



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