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"Flo," the campaign from Citizens for Better Medicare, seems to have quickly established itself as the biggest Washington-aimed advertising of the year as Congress nears the end of its session.

Using a tone and message similar to the "Harry & Louise" ads of 1994 -- ads that opposed President Clinton's healthcare proposal and started a new wave of groups running ads outside the Beltway to lobby Congress on policy -- the "Flo" ads depict a senior citizen worried about President Clinton's proposal to extend Medicare coverage to prescription drugs.

"I don't want big government in my medicine cabinet," she says in the ads from National Media's creative shop headed by Chief Creative Officer Alex Castellanos.

Two TV spots, each with 60-second and 30-second versions, ran nationally on CNN and in about two-dozen markets. Page ads ran in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal; radio spots ran in Washington.


The campaign began in July and may return next year. Its part of an estimated $20 million advertising and grass-roots effort by the group, which is financed by drug companies. The group declined to disclose how much it's spending on media ads.

Executive Director Tim Ryan said the group decided to advertise because Citizens for Better Medicare felt that not enough of the public knew of the Washington debate.

"We are trying to raise awareness of the Medicare issue and point out or critique plans that don't meet our principles," he said. "Advertising is an important way to communicate with a majority of Americans, particularly seniors who don't know the debate is going on here."

The "Harry & Louise" ads from Goddard/Claussen, Malibu, Calif., pictured a 40ish couple sitting on a couch talking about healthcare. The ads were considered revolutionary at the time because the health industry chose that approach as an alternative to direct lobbying of lawmakers.


Drug industry critics have contended marketers are concerned that profits might be adversely affected if Medicare began covering prescription drugs, while the drug industry says it merely wants to see a productive plan for coverage.

Mr. Ryan said his group's ads are different from those of the earlier coalition of health industry groups.

"The comparison is accurate in that [ad efforts] are both against a big-government approach, but they are different in the sense that we do have a solution we want Congress to enact," he said.

The spending by Citizens for Better Medicare stands out this year, especially against the relatively small spending by managed-care groups and employers fighting proposals for a patient's bill of rights.

Both the Business Roundtable and the American Association of Health Plans ran

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