Health Care Ads Go Retro, With A Twist

Remember Harry and Louise?

They were television icons back in the 1990s - a fictional couple starring not in a sitcom, but in political ads that transformed a very real national debate, reports CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews.

Fifteen years ago, when President Clinton was proposing universal health coverage and First Lady Hillary Clinton was selling it to Congress, the Harry and Louise ads instantly unified the opposition by labeling the Clinton plan a government takeover.

"The government picks health plans, then we have to pick a plan from their list," Louise used to complain to her husband.

Now, fifteen years later, some patient rights and hospital groups are borrowing Harry and Louise. And in this new ad, the couple changes sides in support of health care reform, saying things like, "Too many people are falling through the cracks."

But a lot more has changed besides Harry and Louise, starting with big business. At a recent press conference, the same health insurance lobby that paid out $17 million for Harry and Louise to defeat the Clinton plan now says it supports the idea of universal coverage and likes the new ad campaign.

"It's a different time," said Karen Ignagni, president of American Health Insurance Plans. "Our community believes it's very important to move on an agenda of health care reform."

"I think it shows that the American people are coming together," said Ron Pollack, executive director for Families USA Patient Advocate Group. "Those who were opposed to health care reform in the past now know it's critically important."

Version two of Harry and Louise, by the way, features the very same actors, but the starting budget is around one tenth of the original, sources say.

The groups behind this campaign also won't touch the tough question of which candidate, Barack Obama or John McCain, has the better health care ideas. Their angle is to generate so much public and industry-backed pressure that health care reform is accomplished regardless of who's elected president.

  • Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.