Harry and Louise return

Clinton plan: Former opponents support some form of health insurance for uninsured.

January 23, 2000

THEY ARE a little older. They are using e-mail instead of snail mail. But those Harry and Louise ads from the insurance industry are back on television. These fictitious characters are still concerned about the government meddling with health insurance.

When the couple debuted in 1993 and 1994, they panned President Clinton's comprehensive health plan as too bureaucratic and complex. This health-industry propaganda helped kill the Clinton health-reform initiative. This time around, they're still wary, but they acknowledge something must be done to cover the 44 million Americans -- including more than 850,000 Marylanders -- who lack insurance.

It is no coincidence Harry and Louise are hitting the airwaves now. Health insurance will be a hot issue over the next 10 months.

President Clinton has just unveiled his $110-billion plan to provide health insurance for about 5 million uninsured Americans. Democratic presidential candidates Al Gore and Bill Bradley have been debating their health care plans for several months. And public opinion polls indicate that a substantial portion of electorate believes that health insurance is an important issue in this presidential election year.

Republicans have yet to weigh in on this round of the health insurance debate, but the sidelines have risks. Democrats will likely use GOP indifference to mock the "compassionate conservatism" of the party's front-runner, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

In all likelihood, the coming year will see a more narrowed and focused debate over competing health care proposals.

In that case, Harry and Louise are likely to be unwelcome guests in our houses for months to come.

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