WASHINGTON — Harry and Louise are coming back to television screens across the country to talk about overhauling health care. This time, they've switched sides.
TV ads featuring the fictional couple played a big role in derailing President Bill Clinton's effort to revamp the medical system in the 1990s. Back then, actors Louise Caire Clark and Harry Johnson played a middle-class couple worrying about the changes, and the ads were sponsored by the insurance industry, which was fighting Clinton's plan.
Now, they will appear in a $4 million TV campaign supporting a reshaping of health care, sponsored by Families USA, which champions affordable health care for families, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. The two groups, often at odds, have joined forces this year to support some general principles behind revamping health care, such as making it more affordable for low-income people.
The ads begin airing this weekend and will run at least three weeks on national cable and network news shows.
In 1993 and 1994, the Harry and Louise ad campaign cost an estimated $14 million to $20 million. Fourteen spots were produced, compared to one this time.
In the new commercial, the characters discuss a need for affordable health coverage that people can keep if they change or lose their jobs. They don't mention some of the issues dividing lawmakers, such as whether there should be optional government-run insurance or requirements that employers cover their workers, or how to pay for it.
"It sounds simple enough," Harry tells Louise as they enjoy coffee at a kitchen table, just as they did in the earlier ads.
"A little more cooperation, a little less politics and we can get the job done this time," Louise says.
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said ads showing Harry and Louise's support for remaking health care "shows how different this health reform debate is."
In an interview, Clark, 59, and Johnson, 66, said they are Democrats who supported Clinton and back President Barack Obama.
They said that though they supported the idea of changing the health system in the 1990s, they felt Clinton's effort lacked sufficient cooperation among affected groups. They said those ads raised legitimate questions about the impact of Clinton's proposal.
"The part was written for me by the producer and director, but I never said anything I didn't believe," said Clark.
Now, Clark said she thinks it is time to overhaul the medical system and believes Obama can do it. She said she thinks their latest ad, shot in a home in Potomac, Md., outside Washington, D.C., will be their last.
"Harry and Louise are like the Energizer bunny"; they don't go away, but I don't think they're going to need us anymore," she said. "I hope not."