Late-night host Jimmy Kimmel on Monday set aside comedy and delivered the kind of moment that can crystallize a political debate.
With House Republicans debating whether to scale back Obamacare's preexisting conditions clause, Kimmel recounted the birth of his baby boy less than two weeks ago. His son, Billy, was born with a heart murmur and was turning purple.
Struggling to get through the story as he choked up repeatedly, Kimmel talked about what might have happened if he didn't have insurance and were put in that situation.
“Before 2014, if you were born with congenital heart disease like my son was, there was a good chance you would never be able to get health insurance because you had a preexisting condition,” Kimmel said, as The Post's Emily Yahr writes. “You were born with a preexisting condition, and if your parents didn’t have medical insurance, you might not even live long enough to get denied because of a preexisting condition.”
Kimmel went on: “If your baby is going to die, and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make. I think that’s something now, whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, or something else, we all agree on that, right? Whatever your party, whatever you believe, whoever you support, we need to make sure that people who are supposed to represent us — and people who are meeting about this right now in Washington — understand that very clearly. Let’s stop with the nonsense. This isn’t football, there are no teams. We are the team, it’s the United States. Don’t let their partisan squabbles divide us on something every decent person wants. We need to take care of each other.”
He concluded: “I saw a lot of families there, and no parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life. It just shouldn’t happen. Not here.”
Exactly how the GOP's plan would impact situations like Kimmel's is likely to be chewed over in the hours ahead. Supporters of the bill will dismiss Kimmel as a Hollywood liberal and point out that Kimmel was only talking about what would happen if parents don't have insurance. And even without insurance, medical ethics state that lives must be saved.
But the monologue emotionally digs at the central debate over the GOP's Obamacare replacement right now. And the fact is that Republicans are considering whether to vote for something that would scale back protections for preexisting conditions.
As The Fix's Amber Phillips explains of the GOP's health care bill:
They are considering a bill that would allow states to allow insurers to charge sick people as much as they want for health insurance. Technically, health insurers couldn't refuse sick people insurance (like they could pre-Obamacare). But practically, sick people probably will be priced out of insurance under this legislation, since insurers could charge whatever they want, said Gary Claxton, a health-care policy expert with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
GOP leaders are having a very difficult time putting together the votes for this. The change to Obamacare's preexisting condition protection appears to have won over much of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, but Republican moderates are still balking at the whole thing and threatening to torpedo the bill.
The decision they are confronting is whether to affix their names to a bill that can credibly be argued hurts existing coverage for preexisting conditions. A CNN/ORC poll in March showed 87 percent of Americans — including more than 80 percent in both parties — support “maintaining the protections offered to people with preexisting conditions under Obamacare.”
Republicans will argue that their bill does this, but if those with preexisting conditions do wind up being priced out of the market, it will be very difficult to hold on to that argument in the years ahead. Apart from the human cost, it could be politically damning for Republicans.
Republicans are faced with deciding whether they want to even go down that road. And that's to say nothing of trying to explain the millions of people who could lose their insurance — the bill's older problem that is making passage in the Senate appear unlikely.
It's clear why many of them are skittish. Watching Kimmel's monologue on Monday night — if some of them do — should only reinforce that.