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CR takes hard look at health reform TV ads

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Consumer Reports “AdWatch” Takes Hard Look at Health Reform TV Ads
Health insurers’ ad doesn’t tell full story about “pre-existing conditions,” Harry and Louise ad “vague, simplistic”

YONKERS, N.Y. – Consumer Reports magazine is launching a new blog dedicated to separating the fact from fiction in TV ads about healthcare reform that are flooding the airwaves during Congress’ August recess.
The Consumer Reports Health blog “Health Reform AdWatch” — now online at http://blogs.consumerreports.org/health — finds that an ad sponsored by health insurers doesn’t tell the full story about patients’ pre-existing conditions. Another TV spot by a strange-bedfellow coalition of industry and patient advocates is found to be “vague” and “simplistic.”
The goal of “AdWatch” is to help people weed through the claims made by these ads, and it directs people to comprehensive, well-researched information about healthcare issues.
This week, Consumer Reports looks the TV ad “Illness” backed by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a group representing companies that sell health insurance. Also in the spotlight is the latest “Harry and Louise” ad co-sponsored by the health-care consumer advocacy group Families USA and the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, the key lobby group for the pharmaceutical industry.
AdWatch says both spots are examples of the “vague pro-reform ad.” The blog says: “A sign of changing times if there ever was one, these ads are sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry and insurance companies … both of whom are spending big bucks this time around to support health reform—on their own terms, of course. Result: two ads that are a little confusing and strangely bland.”
AdWatch reports that the AHIP ad “talks about the happy day when all Americans will have coverage and ‘the words “preexisting condition” will become a thing of the past.’”
“That’s totally nice,” AdWatch notes, “if you put aside the fact that it’s the insurance industry that invented preexisting conditions in the first place. This time around, health insurers have basically agreed to ignore preexisting conditions in exchange for government subsidies and what’s called an individual mandate, which will require people not insured by an employer to buy insurance on their own. So, forced to renounce the policies they created, the insurers make it sound like the whole thing was their idea.”
AdWatch also urges readers to “listen for the word ‘bipartisan’ at the end of the [AHIP] ad, as in, ‘We’re America’s health insurance companies, supporting bipartisan reforms that Congress can build on.’” The blog points out that, under the new system proposed by some Democrats, people could buy individual insurance either from private insurance companies or an optional public plan. The insurers—and many Republicans—are opposed to that public option, which will compete with the private plans. “Hence, ‘bipartisan’ is a nice way of saying, ‘No public option,’” Adwatch says.
Then there’s the Harry and Louise spot, featuring the same fictional couple who appeared in 1994 in insurance industry-sponsored ads that helped derail Clinton-era health reform. This time, the couple is singing an entirely different tune in a pro-reform ad. The spot, AdWatch says “keep[s] it vague, and painfully simplistic,” closing with “Louise” saying cryptically: “A little more cooperation, a little less politics, and we can get the job done this time.” The blog says: “True? Yes. Useful? Informative? Not so much. Though we are glad to see H and L looking so fit after 15 years. They must have good health coverage.”
AdWatch provides video links for readers to watch the ads. It encourages readers to tell the editors about ads they’ve seen on TV and to keep checking in for more critiques in the days ahead.
David Butler, 202-719-5916
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