The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jimmy Kimmel gets heated about health-care bill, says Sen. Bill Cassidy ‘lied right to my face’

Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel makes a tearful plea over his son's heart condition on his show on May 1. (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

In May, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel delivered an emotional monologue as he revealed that his newborn son, Billy, was born with a heart defect that required immediate surgery. The operation was successful, but Kimmel was deeply shaken by the experience, which happened amid the debate over replacing the Affordable Care Act. Kimmel delivered a passionate plea about the astronomical costs of health care: “No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life.”

Later that week, while talking about whether insurance companies should be able to cap payouts, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) coined the phrase “the Jimmy Kimmel test,” as in: “Would a child born with congenital heart disease be able to get everything he or she would need in that first year of life?” Cassidy then appeared on Kimmel’s show, and the senator reiterated the importance of making sure middle-class families could afford health care.

Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel attacked the Cassidy-Graham health-care plan on Sept. 19, and mocked Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) for failing his own standard. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Fast forward to this month, and there’s a new proposal as the Senate continues in its quest to repeal Obamacare: It’s called the Cassidy-Graham bill, spearheaded by Cassidy and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). People have already pointed out it would fail the “Jimmy Kimmel test.” On his show Tuesday night, the late-night host eviscerated Cassidy and the bill.

How Jimmy Kimmel, of all people, became one of the most influential voices on health care

“I know you guys are going to find this hard to believe. But a few months ago, after my son had open heart surgery … a senator named Bill Cassidy from Louisiana was on my show, and he wasn’t very honest,” Kimmel said, kicking things off. Here’s a transcript of most of Kimmel’s remarks, which got heated, especially toward Cassidy — and he had a few choice words for people who will criticize him for politicizing his son’s health problems.

It seemed like [Cassidy] was being honest. He got a lot of credit and attention for coming off like a rare, reasonable voice in the Republican Party when it came to health care for coming up with something he called — and I didn’t name it this, he named it this — the Jimmy Kimmel test, which was in a nutshell: No family should be denied medical care, emergency of otherwise, because they can’t afford it. He agreed to that. He said he would only support a health-care bill that made sure a child like mine would get the health coverage he needs no matter how much money his parents make.
And that did not have annual or lifetime caps. These insurance companies, they want caps, to limit how much they can pay out. So for instance, if your son has to have three open heart surgeries, it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece. If he hits his lifetime cap of, let’s say, a million dollars, the rest of his life, he’s on his own.
Our current plan protects Americans from these caps and prevents insurance providers from jacking up the rates for people who have preexisting conditions of all types. And Senator Cassidy said his plan would do that, too. He said all of this on television many times.
(Clip of Sen. Cassidy on CNN saying, “I ask, does it pass the Jimmy Kimmel test? Would the child born with a congenital heart disease be able to get everything she or he would need in the first year of life? I want it to pass the Jimmy Kimmel test.”)
So last week, Bill Cassidy and Senator Lindsey Graham proposed a new bill, the Graham-Cassidy bill. And this new bill actually does pass the Jimmy Kimmel test, but a different Jimmy Kimmel test. With this one, your child with a preexisting condition will get the care he needs — if, and only if, his father is Jimmy Kimmel. Otherwise, you might be screwed.
Now, I don’t know what happened to Bill Cassidy. But when he was on this publicity tour, he listed his demands for a health-care bill very clearly. These were his words. He said he wants coverage for all; no discrimination based on preexisting conditions; lower premiums for middle-class families; and no lifetime caps. And guess what? The new bill? Does none of those things.
Coverage for all? No. Fact, it will kick about 30 million Americans off insurance. Preexisting conditions? Nope. If the bill passes, individual states can let insurance companies charge you more if you have a preexisting condition. You’ll find that little loophole later in the document after it says they can’t. They can, and they will.
But will it lower premiums? Well, in fact, for lots of people, the bill will result in higher premiums. And as far as no lifetime caps go, the states can decide on that, too, which means there will be lifetime caps in many states. So not only did Bill Cassidy fail the Jimmy Kimmel test, he failed the Bill Cassidy test. He failed his own test. And you don’t see that happen very much.
This bill that he came up with is actually worse than the one that, thank God, Republicans like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and John McCain torpedoed over the summer. And I hope they have the courage and good sense to do that again with this one, because these other guys who claim they want Americans to have better health care — even though eight years ago they didn’t want anyone to have health care at all — they’re trying to sneak this scam of a bill they cooked up in without an analysis from the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office.
They don’t even want you to see it. They’re having one hearing. I read the hearing’s being held in the Homeland Security Committee, which has nothing to do with health care. And the chairman agreed to allow two witnesses, Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham, to speak.
So, listen, health care is complicated. It’s boring. I don’t want to talk about it. The details are confusing, and that’s what these guys are relying on. They’re counting on you to be so overwhelmed with all the information you just trust them to take care of you, but they’re not taking care of you. They’re taking care of the people who give them money, like insurance companies. And we’re all just looking at our Instagram accounts and liking things while they’re voting on whether people can afford to keep their children alive or not.
Most of the congresspeople who vote on this bill probably won’t even read it. And they want us to do the same thing; they want us to treat it like an iTunes service agreement. And this guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face.
(Clip of Kimmel and Cassidy’s interview from May — Kimmel: “Do you believe every American regardless of income should be able to get regular checkups, maternity care, etc., all of those things, that people who have health care get and need?” Cassidy: “Yep.”)
So “yep” is Washington for “nope,” I guess. And I never imagined I would get involved in something like this. This is not my area of expertise. My area of expertise is eating pizza, and that’s really about it. But we can’t let them do this to our children, and our senior citizens, and our veterans, or to any of us.
And by the way, before you post a nasty Facebook message saying I’m politicizing my son’s health problems, I want you to know: I am politicizing my son’s health problems because I have to. My family has health insurance. We don’t have to worry about this. But other people do, so you can shove your disgusting comments where your doctor won’t be giving you a prostate exam once they take your health-care benefits away.

Kimmel went on to list the myriad health organizations that oppose this “bad bill,” and he urged viewers to call their members of Congress and let them know that “this bill doesn’t pass your test.” And he delivered one final message to Cassidy:

Senator Cassidy, you were on my show. You seem like you’re a decent guy. But here’s the thing: Nobody outside of your buddies in Congress wants this bill. Only 12 percent of American supported the last one, and this one is worse. Right now, there’s a bipartisan group of senators working to improve the health-care system we have. We want quality, affordable health care. Dozens of other countries figured it out.
So instead of jamming this horrible bill down our throats, go pitch in and be a part of that. I’m sure they could use a guy with your medical background. And if not? Stop using my name. Okay? ’Cause I don’t want my name on it. There’s a new Jimmy Kimmel test for you; it’s called the lie detector test. You’re welcome to stop by the studio and take it anytime.

Update: On Wednesday morning, Cassidy went on CNN to defend the bill.

“I am sorry [Kimmel] does not understand,” Cassidy told Chris Cuomo, saying the bill means “more people will have coverage and we protect those with preexisting conditions. States like Maine, Virginia, Florida, Missouri, there will be billions more dollars to provide health insurance coverage for those in those states who have been passed by by Obamacare, and we protect those with preexisting conditions.”

“The counterargument will be preexisting conditions will be up to the pricing of the particular state and market. So it’s not what it is now, where you can’t allow insurance companies to cherry-pick and punish people for preexisting conditions,” Cuomo responded. “So the protection is not the same, Senator, on that one point.”

“The protection is absolutely the same,” Cassidy said. “There’s a specific provision that says that if a state applies for a waiver, it must ensure that those with preexisting conditions have affordable and adequate coverage.”

Cuomo pointed out that, pending a CBO score, people will have to pay more for coverage; Cassidy countered that he thinks people would pay less. See more of the interview here.

Read more:

On health care, Cassidy flunks his own ‘Jimmy Kimmel test’

The Health 202: The new GOP Obamacare repeal effort faces the same old math

Jimmy Kimmel slams critics of his emotional health-care plea, calls out Newt Gingrich