Late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel inserted himself into the health-care debate in May by telling a harrowing story of the birth of his son, Billy, who was born with a congenital heart defect and required a lot of expensive, attentive medical care to stay alive.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) latched onto the moment to promote his own version of Obamacare repeal: “Does it pass the Jimmy Kimmel test?” he asked. He went on Kimmel's show. They talked about their shared values of providing people health care even if they can't afford it.
Now Cassidy's bill has a shot — however slim — at becoming law in the next week and a half. And Kimmel thinks it sucks and that he got burned by Cassidy. “This guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face,” Kimmel said on his show Tuesday. (Full transcript here.)
“I'm sorry he does not understand,” Cassidy retorted on CNN on Wednesday, arguing that in many states, he thinks insurance will become more affordable than Obamacare under his plan.
It turns out Kimmel understands the bill's impact better than its authors do. Here are five of Kimmel's claims matched up with what we know about the bill.
1. Kimmel: “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.”
Kimmel is saying that people with the means to insure their families can do so, while others might not be able to. "Might” is the key word here.
The Cassidy-Graham bill gives states universal power to decide how to govern their health-insurance markets. Some states may want to expand health insurance coverage for lower-income people, while others might want to limit their role in this.
But what states want and what they can financially do are two very different things. This bill does not give states nearly as much money to help cover the rising cost of health insurance as Obamacare is giving them right now. In fact, most federal funding from Obamacare would end completely in 2026. That means even states that want to create a health-care-for-all system with their newfound freedom probably won't be able to afford it.
2. “Fact: It will kick about 30 million Americans off insurance.”
This isn't a fact, because we only have estimates. But at least one estimate says this bill could result in more than 30 million Americans without health insurance over the next decade. An analysis by the think tank Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said Cassidy's bill would likely leave millions more uninsured by severely cutting federal funding for Medicaid and Obamacare subsidies.
Not all of those people would be “kicked off.” Some would leave willingly when they no longer are required by Obamacare to choose between having health insurance and paying a fine.
Also: Senate Republicans are planning to vote on this bill without an estimate from the official Congressional Budget Office on how it would affect the insurance rolls.
3. “[Cassidy] 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.”
Let's take these claims one by one.
Does this bill provide coverage for all? Well, no. Even Obamacare doesn't do that. Generally speaking, Obamacare decreased the number of uninsured, while Republicans' proposals would increase it.
Does this bill promise no discrimination based on preexisting conditions? “Promise?” No. It depends what state you're in and whether your state decides to remove protections for preexisting conditions. This bill allows states to get waivers that allow insurers to charge people with preexisting conditions more.
The Center for Budget and Policy priorities says, in return, “states seeking waivers would only have to explain how they intend to maintain access to coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, but they wouldn’t have to prove that their waivers would actually do so.”
And the Kaiser Family Foundation says: "It is hard to imagine that insurers would cover certain benefits if they were not required."
Previous CBO estimates have determined that when given the choice, states making up one-sixth of the population would let insurers raise premiums for people with preexisting conditions, effectively making it nearly impossible for many with conditions like Billy's to buy health insurance.
Does this bill lower premiums for middle-class families? It's not likely. Under this bill, states could theoretically invest their own money to lower premiums. But many states are facing budget crises. So it's likely states will have to let premiums rise for middle-and lower-income families or face raising taxes and cutting funding elsewhere.
Does this bill ensure there are no lifetime caps on health insurance? It's not a guarantee. This bill allows states to get rid of most Obamacare protections, and the American Heart Association and other patient groups argue that would open the door to annual and lifetime caps on coverage.
4. “Only 12 percent of Americans 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.”
The poll numbers differ, but Kimmel is correct that the versions of Republicans' Obamacare repeal were about as popular as Vladimir Putin is in America, in the 12 to 17 percent range.
He's also correct that a bipartisan group of senators is working to stabilize the health insurance markets by letting Congress provide subsidies that make health insurance more affordable to lower-income people. But that effort appears to have been set aside as Republicans try to rush through an Obamacare repeal.
5. “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.”
Maybe he read that in The Washington Post? On Monday, The Post reported that the committees that usually oversee health care have not scheduled hearings on this bill, but one that normally does not deal with health care has a hearing. And yes, it is the Homeland Security Committee. (The committee's chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), is a co-sponsor of the Cassidy-Graham legislation.)
But the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over health care, has also announced a hearing on the bill. It's scheduled for Monday at 10 a.m.
The hearings would be held just four days before Republicans have to vote on it.
Republicans are in a rush because they are trying to pass this with a budget tool called reconciliation, which lets Republicans duck a Senate Democratic filibuster on any legislation that directly affects the government's bottom line. The ability to use that tool expires at the end of the month.
This post has been updated to reflect that the Senate Finance Committee announced a hearing on the bill as well.