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‘Does it pass the Jimmy Kimmel test?’ asks GOP senator who authored proposal to replace Obamacare

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)

A Republican senator came up with a new phrase to promote a bill he has pitched to replace the Affordable Care Act.

“Does it pass the Jimmy Kimmel test?” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who introduced legislation that would replace Obamacare while keeping some of its most popular features, said Friday in an interview with CNN. “Would a child born with 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.”

Cassidy, a physician, was answering a question about whether he'd support a bill that allows insurance companies to cap their payout to customers. Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers are not allowed to limit how much they would pay out in benefits to cover health care in a person's lifetime. Children born with serious health problems, like Kimmel's, are likely to hit those limits early in life.

Cassidy's comments came just a few days after Kimmel revealed that his newborn son has congenital heart disease. The late-night host began his show Monday with a tearful opening about his son's open-heart surgery, which he described as “the longest three hours of my life.”

“Before 2014, if you were born with congenital heart disease like my son, there was a good chance you would never be able to get health insurance because you had a preexisting condition. 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 said, adding later his plea regarding the health-care debate: “This isn't football; there are not 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 care for each other.”

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On Friday, Cassidy said on CNN that his proposal, dubbed the Cassidy-Collins bill, does not impose lifetime limits and protects people with preexisting conditions — some of Obamacare's most popular provisions. The bill, introduced in January, also would keep the provision allowing those age 26 and under to stay on their parents' health insurance.

“I want to make sure … that if a child is born and has Tetralogy of Fallot — I think that's what the child had — that they would receive all the services even if they go over a certain amount,” Cassidy said. “So, simple answer, I want to make sure folks get the care they need.”

An amendment added to the American Health Care Act, which House Republicans narrowly passed Thursday, would allow states to obtain a waiver so they could charge customers with preexisting conditions more than other people. The latest addition, which would provide $8 billion over five years to lower premiums for those with preexisting conditions, swayed concerned lawmakers to support the bill, allowing House Republicans to secure enough votes to pass it.

Democrats, however, say the $8 billion is not enough and that those with preexisting conditions will face the choice of paying exorbitant premiums or carrying no insurance.

Cassidy and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) had introduced the Patient Freedom Act, which would create larger risk pools to keep costs down for those with serious health problems.

The bill also would repeal Obamacare mandates that require individuals and business owners to buy insurance and shift health-care decisions to the states. Under the bill, states would also have the option to keep the plan they have in place today.

" … so that those who are sicker, if you will, aren't in a pool of those who are younger and healthier,” Cassidy said. “It works. That's how every big risk pool does it. We have a plan on how to address that.”

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“If you like your insurance, you should keep it, and we mean it,” Cassidy said in January.

As House Republicans celebrated with the White House on Thursday passing the House GOP version of the repeal-and-replace bill, Senate Republicans made clear that they intended to come up with their own proposal. Whether that would be Cassidy and Collins's bill, some version of it or something entirely different remains unclear.

Perhaps an ominous signal of what is likely to be an uphill battle in the Senate is a tweet from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a co-sponsor of Cassidy and Collins's bill:

On CNN on Friday, Cassidy dodged a question on whether the House bill sufficiently protects people with preexisting conditions.

“We don't have a score on the House bill, but let's just speak to the positive. Because I think if we focus on the House bill, we're totally ignoring what the process is going to be,” he said. “The process is that moving forward, the Senate will write its own bill.”

The Congressional Budget Office has yet to have a forecast on how the House bill would affect people's health care, but an estimate on the bill's original version indicated that 24 million more people would be uninsured by 2026 than under the Affordable Care Act.

Emily Yahr and Kelsey Snell contributed to this story.


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