Understanding the "Harry and Louise" Campaigns

(9/21/14)- The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will be showing that it has learned from the “Harry and Louise” anti-government prescription drug purchasing campaign that it can use ads to get people to sign on to health insurance coverage when the open enrollment period opens on November 15 under the Affordable Care Act. This enrollment period will only be for a 3 month period versus the 6- month enrollment time frame for Obama Care I.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that 13 million people will use either their states or the federal health insurance exchange to sign up versus the 8.1 million who signed up the first time.

The CMS ad campaign will feature testimonials from people who signed up, with a greater emphasis on the deadline, the people and organizations that will be available to help sign potential enrollees and how affordable the coverage is affordable, especially with the subsidies that will be available to them.

Enroll America, a coalition of the laws supporters and sign-up activists plan to step up in-person assistance programs. An online tool will be launched to tell people where they can go to get help to sign up.

Emphasis will be placed on the penalties for failure to sign up. The fine for not having coverage is $95, or 1% of the family income, this year, which will grow to $695 per adult, or 2.5% of family income by 2016.

(4/14/11)- As the old saying goes, "History repeats itself". It does not take a great imagination to realize that there will be many who oppose President Obama's proposal announced yesterday, in his speech to the nation, to have Medicare and Medicaid do centralized purchasing of prescription drugs for beneficiaries that they cover. He stated that it is cheaper to have one centralized organization purchasing the medications rather than having multiple sources making the purchases.

Let's take a look at our item dated 3/3/03 below wherein we discuss the "Harry and Louise" and the "Flo" campaigns that argued that "we don't want the government in our medicine cabinets."

Those ads, in updated versions will be filling the media again in the ensuing weeks and months as the debate on this issue comes to the forefront. We at therubins are with the president on this topic.

(7/20/09)- Old time baseball fans were shocked when they learned about Leo Durocher, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers being traded to become the manager of the New York Giants. Something equally shocking has now occurred with the "Harry and Louise" health care reform ad switching over to the side of the pro change for health care legislation.

This is the 5th in the series of Harry and Louise ad campaigns, and the same actors play the same suburban couple in the present reincarnation of the series. Harry is the actor Harry Johnson, and Louise is Louise Caire Clark.

Another shocker in the present $4 million ad campaign is that it is co-sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, the drug industry's lobbying trade group, and Families USA, a non-profit group that advocates affordable medical care. For more information on Families USA please go to their Web site at

The first, and most famous, in the series of the Harry and Louise campaign ran in 1993 and 1994. It cost about $14 million and opposed the Clinton health care reform proposals.

Charles N. Kahn III, who oversaw the original campaign as the executive vice-president of the Health Insurance Association of America, a trade group that later merged with another group to become America's Health Plan, was instrumental in reviving the campaign in 2000, in encouraging people to buy private health insurance.

Ben Goddard, whose ad firm Goddard Clausen created all of the campaigns, resurrected the campaign for a third time to oppose a bill that would have created stem cell research. Mr. Goddard married the actress in the campaigns Louise Caire Clark in 1997.

The fourth ad campaign by the couple occurred in connection with last year's presidential election when, under the sponsorship of Families USA, the couple came out and advocated the need for health care reform.

(1/29/07)- We would like to thank one of our viewers, Cynthia, for pointing out the errors in our article dated 3/3/03. The original "Harry and Louise" advertising campaign was conceived by Ben Goddard and Rick Claussen of the advertising/public relations firm of Goddard Claussen.

The ad campaign was drawn up to oppose the health care plan of Bill and Hillary Clinton that was proposed in 1993. The actors in the ad were Harry Johnson and Claire Clark. The "Flo" ad campaign began in July 1999.

The Coalition for Health Insurance Choice (CHIC) led the opposition to the Clintons' plan. It was funded by the Health Insurance Association of America (HIAA), a health insurance lobbying group, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses. The CHIC was the brainchild of Blair G. Childs.

The "Flo" campaign came along in July 1999 and it was modeled after the "Harry and Louise" campaign of 1993.

(3/3/03)- The same nonprofit group under a different name, that brought us the "Flo" ads, is back at it again, trying to affect the issue of prescription drug coverage under Medicare. The "Flo" campaign originated in 1999, and like the "Harry and Louise" campaign was aimed at keeping the federal government out of covering Medicare and its beneficiaries for their prescription drugs.

The group that we are referring to was the Citizens for Better Medicare (CBM), which is based in Washington, D.C. The ads featured "Flo", an arthritic bowler who urged viewers to help "keep the government out of our medicine cabinets." At the time CBM was spending more than $1 million a week in connection with the 2000 election. CBM was bankrolled for the advertising campaign mainly by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufactures of America (PhRMA) which is the drug industry's main trade association. PhRMA has stopped funding for CBM, and instead is channeling what it calls "unrestricted educational grants to the United Seniors Association of Fairfax, Va. (USA).

On the state level, PhRMA is bankrolling another so called nonprofit organization named the 60 Plus Association of Arlington, Va., to help affect the public's opinion in connection with the prescription drug coverage issue. A third so called nonprofit organization, the Seniors Coalition, which is based in Springfield, Va. Describes itself as an "advocacy organization that represents the interests and concerns of America's senior citizens."

All three of the above organizations were formed with help from Richard Viguerie. Former officers or employees of Viguere's companies operate two of the companies. The AARP Bulletin of February 2003 had an article entitled " Pulling Strings From Afar" by Bill Hogan. The article deals with how these three companies and the pharmaceutical industry are trying to affect public opinion in connection with the prescription drug coverage issue under Medicare.

All three organizations have been criticized over the years for questionable fundraising practices. According to the article none of the three listed any revenues from membership dues on their tax returns as recently as 2001. The article goes on to further state that an investigation by the AARP Bulletin shows that virtually all of their largest contributors are from the pharmaceutical industry. The industry invested more that $30 million in the 2002 election campaign, with over one third of the money going to the USA advertising campaign.

The pharmaceutical industry has embarked on another "Harry and Louise" type campaign similar to the one in 1993-1994 that helped defeat President Clinton's health reform plan. The industry's trade group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) is financing the advertising campaign. Please refer to our article to gain some further insights into this matter.. For further information on this issue please see our articles: "Medicare and Prescription Drug Coverage" Part I, Medicare and Prescription Drugs Part II and Prescription Drugs and the Cost of Advertising Them


Let's look back at some of the recent history in connection with the issue of Medicare and prescription drug coverage. On January 26, 2000 House Republican leaders announced that Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois would shortly appoint a working group of about 12 Republican lawmakers to draft legislation covering the Republican Party's viewpoint for Medicare prescription drug coverage. The leader's press conference indicated that "If a prescription drug benefit is added to Medicare, it should be delivered through the private sector". They estimated that it should take between 30 to 45 days for the group to report back with a consensus viewpoint on the issue.

On January 12, 2000 the PhRMA spokesmen (Raymond V. Gilmarten, chairman of Merck and Gordon M. Blinder, chairman of Amgen) announced that the industry would be willing to negotiate with the then Pres. Clinton on the issue of prescription drug coverage under Medicare. They further stated that they would not wait for the reformation of Medicare as a whole before proceeding with the negotiations. The impact of this statement would be to shift the burden back to Clinton to pursue these negotiations. At last count there were 44 million Americans with no health plans.

We certainly agree that the 3 major parties to the negotiations should get down to doing their parts as soon as possible. We would like to assess the general views of the 3 sides in this issue so that you can better understand what they are talking about in this matter. It is now 2003 and no progress has been made on this issue.

The drug industry opposes the establishment of another bureaucracy to administer the prescription drug coverage for the elderly. The industry proposes that the federal government allocate a certain sum of money to the Medicare beneficiaries. The beneficiary in turn would contract with a private insurance company for their own prescription drug coverage. It would be similar to an individual and a Medigap coverage plan. The problem that we foresee with this arrangement is that the insurance companies can "cherry pick" which beneficiaries they will cover. Thus the healthier applicants will be accepted while the sicker beneficiaries will be all pooled together under Medicare coverage. Thus Medicare will be left with the sicker and thus more expensive beneficiaries. The industry opposes the "drug benefits manager" approach saying that all that does is to set up another bureaucracy. The industry also claims that Clinton's plan is tantamount to proposing in another form "drug price controls".

Under Clinton's proposed plan, Medicare would cover all beneficiaries who were willing to pay a slight monthly premium for such coverage. There would be a deductible that the beneficiary would have to pay for and the amount of total coverage would be limited. His plan would utilize "drug benefits managers" to purchase the drugs for the Medicare beneficiaries as a group. The "drug benefits managers" would be able to get substantial discounts on the purchase of the drugs, since they would be representing such a large purchasing group. Clinton's proposed plan was by far and away the costliest of all the proposed plans but it would cover all Medicare beneficiaries equally no matter how wealthy or poor they were. No income criteria would be set under his plan to restrict entrance to the coverage.

He stated that his 2001 budget request included a $3,000 tax credit for long-term-health-care costs. He previously had called for a $1,000 tax credit for it, but was defeated in that proposal because of the cost. The credit would cost an estimated $8.8 billion over 5 years and $26.6 billion over 10 years. The patient could take the credit himself or designate a caregiver as the beneficiary. It would be available to those who are significantly impaired and need help in caring for themselves.

The Republican plan would call for income restrictions in determining who would be covered under a prescription drug plan. Thus everyone below certain income levels would be eligible under their plan. The cost of their plan would be much less than that of Clinton's plan. As to coverage for those beneficiaries above these income levels, they basically agree with the industry's viewpoint of private insurance coverage for the rest of the elderly. They also oppose the "drug benefits manager" approach saying it only sets up another bureaucracy.

The insurance industry has indicated that it would oppose any form of compulsory coverage for prescription drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries. The problem lies with the fact that no insurance company would want to cover those Medicare beneficiaries who have had large prescription drug bills. The healthy Medicare beneficiaries would be the ones most sought after by the insurance companies.


by Allan Rubin
updated September21, 2014

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