Hillary & Bill & Harry & Louise

In the last month there’s been talk about the Clinton health care agenda of the early 1990s. Republican presidential candidates have called the effort “socialist” and Hillary Clinton herself has talked about the need to stand up to the insurance companies. The piece I wrote, below, published in the Nation magazine in their Dec. 13, 1993 issue, basically debunks these myths.

“I know you’ve all seen the ads. You know, the kind of homey kitchen ads where you’ve got the couple sitting there talking about how the President’s plan is going to take away choice and the President’s plan is going to narrow options, and then that sort of heartfelt sigh by that woman at the end, ‘There must be a better way’ — you know, you’ve seen that, right?

“What you don’t get told in the ad is that it is paid for by insurance companies. … It is time for you and for every American to stand up and say to the insurance industry: ‘Enough is enough, we want our health care system back!’ ”

What Hillary Rodham Clinton was referring to in a recent speech was a series of soap opera-style TV ads featuring a woeful couple, “Harry and Louise,” and sponsored by the Health Insurance Association of America (H.I.A.A.). The First Lady positioned herself as a foe of big business; the media played right along.

Tom Brokaw introduced NBC’s segment saying, “Hillary Rodham Clinton today launched a scathing attack on the health insurance industry.” Correspondent Andrea Mitchell, working on the basis of anonymous sources, suggested that the Administration went after H.I.A.A. because “the White House wanted a scapegoat.” On CNN reporters relayed that the Administration is “engaged in something close to an all-out war with the health insurance industry,” and that “the White House would rather talk about insurance industry profits than the rosy assumptions on which its own plan is based.”

A closer look, however, reveals a different sort of deceit on the part of the Administration, the TV networks and Senator Edward Kennedy, who joined in the First Lady’s pseudo-populism, asking the H.I.A.A. to “drop the ads and come work with us” on the Clinton health plan. That plan, in fact, serves the interests of the insurance establishment. As Patrick Woodall of Public Citizen says, “The managed competition-style plan the Clintons have chosen virtually guarantees that the five largest health insurance companies — Aetna, Prudential, Met Life, Cigna and The Travelers — will run the show in the health care system.”

These big companies helped develop Clinton’s plan of managed competition, and all but The Tavelers paid for much of the research that was done by the Jackson Hole Group, an organization that drew up the original blueprint for managed competition. (The Administration tries to obscure this; in rebuttal to the H.I.A.A.’s ads, the Democratic party made a commercial saying of the Clinton plan: “The insurance companies may not like it, but the President didn’t design it for them-he designed it for you.”)

Robert Dreyfuss of Physicians for a National Health Program says, “The Clintons are getting away with murder by portraying themselves as opponents of the insurance industry. It’s only the small fry that oppose their plan. Under any managed competition scheme, the small ones will be pushed out of the market very quickly.”

Indeed, the H.I.A.A. is made up mostly of small and medium-sized insurers. The five biggest insurers have formed their own organization, the Alliance for Managed Competition, which basically backs the Clinton approach. These big insurers stand to gain from the Clinton plan’s increased corporatization of health care since they have been rapidly buying H.M.O.s, 45 percent of which are now owned by the eight largest insurance companies. The outlays for advertisements by the big insurers and the H.M.0.s dwarf the moneys being spent on advocacy ads by the H.I.A.A. and either the Democratic or Republican Party.

The compelling question, then, is not who’s behind “Harry and Louise” but who’s behind Bill and Hillary?

SAM HUSSEINI’s writings are at www.husseini.org .



Sam Husseini is an independent journalist. He writes at husseini.substack.com