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Peter D. Rosenstein Headshot

Where Are the 'Harry and Louise' of 2012?

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Communication, communication, communication; the key is giving people the opportunity to grasp their own reality of the over 2,000 pages of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is colloquially known as 'Obamacare'.

Between September 1993 and September 1994 there was an amazingly successful year-long ad campaign starring 'Harry and Louise' funded to the tune of $14-$20 million by the Health Insurance Association of America. The ads generated opposition to Bill Clinton's proposed health care plan, often called 'Hillarycare' because of the huge role that Hillary Clinton had in developing it. Hillary had the foresight to know that health care, and how to provide it cost-effectively for all Americans, was an issue that wouldn't solve itself. The characters of Harry and Louise were brought out again in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2009 but this time they actually called for insurance for uninsured Americans.

As we await the Supreme Court's decision on whether the ACA is constitutional, I am wondering why those supporters of the ACA, including the Obama Administration, haven't brought back either Harry or Louise or developed some new, believable characters to discuss with and educate the public on what the ACA means to their family and their friends. With all the money around during this election cycle it seems that instead of a $20 million campaign, we could up that amount significantly. The goal would be to move public opinion to realize that whatever the court's decision, we can't allow those who would hide their heads in the sand and support either the status quo or trying to fix health care in this nation state by state to win.

As to the type of ad, it might be a family of four sitting around their kitchen table, their living room, a hospital room or even a funeral parlor. They would be talking about Aunt Helen, who lives alone, and has either just been diagnosed with breast cancer or has recently passed away from cancer and had no insurance. The discussion could be how to pay the $100,000 for her care or how the family now faces huge bills that they are responsible for. It may mean that Molly, their 17-year-old daughter, will either have to postpone going to college or be saddled with huge loans. They can talk about how it would have been great if Aunt Helen had been required to get health insurance even when she didn't need it because by the time she was diagnosed with her cancer she couldn't afford to get the care she needed right away and she couldn't get insurance because of a pre-existing condition. If only the ACA were in place, that wouldn't be the case anymore.

They can talk about how without the ACA, Mike, their 23-year-old son with only a part-time job, wouldn't have had any insurance and how they wouldn't have been able to afford the costs incurred when he broke his arm playing basketball with friends. Or have them mention their neighbor's son Steve, diagnosed last year with a cancerous tumor in his left leg, which needed amputation. They commiserate with their neighbors who are now facing the kinds of bills that will bankrupt them and may force them to sell their home to pay for all the care and prostheses that Steve will need so he can live a full life. Without the ACA this is what is happening across the nation.

These are the real scenarios that not just poor people but middle-class working people face every day and we need to make them face these situations head-on to share what the ACA will really mean to them, their friends and family. One of the reasons Ted Kennedy first began his fight for national health insurance was because when his son was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his leg, which needed to be amputated, the Kennedys could afford the operation and the follow-up care, which included prostheses as their child grew up. But so many of the families they met during that difficult time couldn't afford a prosthetic for their child or had to totally bankrupt themselves to do so. Those sons and daughters were faced with a life that was less than it could or should have been because they weren't born into a rich family. Kennedy realized that in this country, the richest in the world, no one should be faced with that dilemma.

We need to bring the benefits of the Affordable Care Act home to people in a way that allows them to understand what the benefits really will mean to them. What it will mean if those benefits already accrued through the Act disappear again.

People don't fear not having insurance before they get sick. Young people think they are immune to everything and often adults with a myriad of responsibilities can't afford insurance as it is priced today. And if they can, many have trouble meeting their own payments, no less paying for an unemployed child or older adult relative for whom they are responsible but hasn't yet reached the age where they are covered by Medicare.

Just ask someone if they know of a family where no member has ever needed to see a doctor or enter a hospital. It is the very rare family that can say yes to that. So insurance is something everyone will eventually need, the only question is when? Explain how the ACA will make a difference in their lives now and how by spreading the cost we can all get the healthcare we need.

We need a 'Harry and Louise' and we need them now!

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