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The Return of Harry & Louise

Mar 10, 2017

I’ve been waiting for Harry & Louise.

Those of you old enough to remember the first season of “NYPD Blue”—no, the first season: long before Dennis Franz bared his butt on prime time TV—will no doubt recall the ads that featured a fortysomething couple sitting at their kitchen table in an unspecified, but bleak future time period. On the table in front of them is a pile of medical bills that their new, low-rent insurance plan apparently won’t cover.

“Things are changing, and not all for the better,” warns a deep-voiced announcer. “The government may force us to pick from a few healthcare plans designed by government bureaucrats.”

Sighs Louise: “Having choices we don’t like is no choice at all.”

The spots—which starred actors actually named Harry and Louise—were sponsored by a health insurance lobby and ran for much of a year, starting in September 1993. And they did much to sink President Clinton’s health care reform plan, or as it was best known: “Hillarycare.”

So, ever since the reveal of Trumpcare, I’ve been waiting for the Democrats’ answer to this famous campaign. And last night I saw it: an ad featuring a woodsy middle-aged guy and a squirrel named Charlie. The woodsy guy is splitting wood in the woods (to build a new home for his woodland rodent friend)—but he’s not too busy to tell us about the new “age rating” provision in the GOP replacement bill (see yesterday’s note for more).

“What the heck is age rating?” you ask. (Hey, that’s just what our woodsy hero asked.)

“But then Charlie explained that it’s Washington Politician speak for overcharging older Americans for their health insurance while lining the insurance companies’ pockets…Here’s how it works. Age rating is like an age tax. It means that health insurers can charge you a higher premium just because of your age. See here?”

(And then a bar chart appears with two different sized logs.)

“This log [the smaller one] represents how much an older person currently pays for healthcare. This log [the bigger one] represents how much that same person will pay if the age-rating bill passes…No, I don't think it's fair either, Charlie.”

The message, sponsored by AARP, prompts viewers to call their member of Congress on a toll-free number and tell them to “give the age tax the ax!” And, yes, it’s campy and clever—and possibly even effective.

But in any case, it’s a great reminder of the political danger of owning something. Healthcare reform, as fraught as it is, is now Republican- owned and operated. Which means that whenever anything gets taken away from anyone around the American healthcare table, they’re going to blame the GOP leadership—and probably President Trump, too. After all, whether he likes it or not, it’s still going to end up being called Trumpcare.

It’s almost as if we’ve been in this same spot over and over and over again. Which reminds me: You know what else came out in 1993? The movie Groundhog Day.

Enjoy the weekend.

This essay appears in today's edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily. Get it delivered straight to your inbox.

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