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They're baaack! Healthcare reform's spokes-couple returns to the airwaves

July 16, 2009 | 11:01 am

Honey, what was the name of that nice couple ... you know, the ones who were always talking about healthcare? The last time we saw them was around the time of the Democratic convention? That couple who switched sides on healthcare reform... You know...

Yeah, Harry and Louise, and they're back at their kitchen table -- and on your TV screen starting this weekend -- calling for a healthcare reform bill.

"A little more cooperation, a little less politics, and we can get the job done this time," says Louise to Harry, after the two banter about the right reform package: one that would allow people to get affordable health insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions and when they change jobs or lose one.

A little less politics? Huh? Isn't this the same Harry and Louise whose 1994 advertisement, aired in the midst of the Clinton administration's efforts to draft a healthcare reform, helped scuttle reform back then? "They choose...," said Harry, referring to the "government bureaucrats" who, a voice-over tells us, would design the healthcare plans into which Americans would be herded. "...we lose," added Louise. Back then, Harry and Louise were brought to us by the coalition of business groups allied against Clinton's healthcare reform efforts.

But by August 2008, Harry and Louise were a bit more open to healthcare reform. "Whoever the next president is, healthcare should be at the top of his agenda. Bring everyone to the table, and make it happen," Louise said in a political ad aired around the Democratic and Republican conventions.

Harry and Louise were on Capitol Hill this morning as well -- part of a campaign of mounting pressure to ensure that healthcare reform gets done this year. They appeared with Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) who's shepherding the bill through Congress, and executives of the two organizations that sponsored the advertisement and the media buy that will see it air for at least three weeks on cable and national networks and on the Sunday talk shows. The campaign's cost is estimated at $4 million.

And who are those political bedfellows bringing Harry and Louise into our homes this time? The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and Families USA, a group that has been active in advocating for universal healthcare coverage. Dodd and others pointed out that when such groups -- typically feuding -- join for a common cause, the consensus behind a reform measure is strong indeed.

This time, however, neither Harry not Louise weigh in on the controversial "public option" -- a proposed government-run plan that Republicans and many in the insurance industry argue will create unfair competition for private insurers, but which Democrats have argued is necessary to ensure universal coverage. A recent survey found that between 68% and 88% of Americans supported some form of government-run healthcare option as part of a reform package.

The actors' names are, in fact Harry and Louise -- hers is Louise Caire Clark and his is Harry Johnson, and yes, they look a little more AARP and a little less "Family Ties" now. They're not, in fact, married to one another. "But they're still pretty good at finishing each other's sentences," said Bob Meissner of Families USA, who spent time with the pair this morning.

-- Melissa Healy