Heroes and Villains and Action-Packed Expense Accounts

Last week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi used inflammatory language to attack the role of insurance companies in the health care debate, comments gained wide attention. From The Hill:

“They are the villains in this,” Pelosi said of private insurers. “They have been part of the problem in a major way. They are doing everything in their power to stop a public option from happening. And the public has to know that. They can disguise their arguments any way they want, but the fact is that they don’t want the competition.”

The comments have been well circulated, analyzed and deplored. Nothing to add on this end, other than to express the worry that if insurance companies — which perform an essential function in the U.S. economy — can be villified so readily, then maybe so can manufacturers.

We also note a cultural shift. It wasn’t so long ago that insurance companies were seen in, if not an heroic light, then at least a sympathetic one. One of the greatest of old time radio programs broadcast in the ’50s and early  ’60s was “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar,” about the “fabulous” free-lance insurance investigator with the “action-packed expense account.” In its finest, mid-50s incarnation, the actor Bob Bailey protrayed Dollar as a sympathetic, smart, tough and yet rueful detective. He worked on commission, saving insurance companies thousands of dollars from fraudulent claims.

Back then, the villains were the criminals, scoundrels and frauds who cheated the insurance companies. So what happened?

P.S. Ed Walker broadcasts an episode of “Your Truly, Johnny Dollar” every Sunday on public radio here in D.C. You can also download the public domain episodes at Archive.org. The multipart episodes are the best.

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