HEALTH ADS TO HIT EPIDEMIC LEVEL

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WASHINGTON-It's money time for healthcare reform-big money.

Between now and August, the various healthcare reform players will pour out $10 million or more in advertising money. That will raise the ante to well over $30 million for healthcare advertising, pro and con, since President Clinton last year began his high-stakes push.

A major contributor is the Democratic National Committee, which just last week weighed in with a 30-second, $250,000 spoof of the much-praised, much-scorned Harry and Louise spots from the Health Insurance Association of America.

The HIAA says it has spent at least $14 million since early 1993 on ads that challenge the president's proposal.

DNC Chairman David Wilhelm said he had another $4 million available to support the president before Congress votes, probably by mid-August. Mr. Wilhelm said future ads might include a 30- or 60-minute infomercial.

The Healthcare Reform Project, a business-labor-consumer coalition generally supportive of the president's proposals, this week introduces its latest TV spot. That will kick off July spending of about $2 million, said Charlie Leonard, a communications consultant for the group, which has already spent about $3 million for advertising.

Chlopak, Leonard & Schechter and Squier, Knapp, Ochs, both Washington, have created the coalition's advertising.

The HIAA plans to air two TV spots, both starring Harry and Louise, in nine markets until late July, said Barbara Gracey, manager-media relations. Ben Goddard, the California consultant who created the Harry and Louise spots, believes the airwaves will soon be teeming with healthcare messages.

"It's conceivable that $30 million or more will be spent on this issue, and it's going to start getting a little crowded out there for messages between now and August," said Mr. Goddard, president of Goddard*Claussen/First Tuesday, Gold River, Calif. "That's why I can't comprehend the logic of the DNC spending money on a commercial that will only hype our ads."

While the Healthcare Reform Project and HIAA continued their established ad themes and strategies, the DNC's latest ad, a tongue-in-cheek spot with a seri- ous underlying message, aroused curiosity for two reasons:

It was created by Harry ("Designing Women") Thomason, the Hollywood sitcom maestro and lifelong friend to the Clinton family.

The spot wasn't previewed by a focus group, Mr. Wilhelm said.

All previous DNC healthcare ads were by Grunwald, Eskew & Donilon. Those ads played to mixed reviews, at best, and observers felt a fresh touch might help re-ignite fading support for the president's plan.

Another factor in the healthcare mix is Texas billionaire Ross Perot, who has tossed on the table an offer of $1 million to the Republican National Committee for a 60-minute program picking apart the president's plan.

Joe Mandese in New York contributed to this story.

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