Late-night TV has gotten very political–and inarguably left-leaning. But last night, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel weaponized his own, tearful story into an argument that Congress should, for a second time, back off on a push to repeal Obamacare.
Kimmel could hardly keep from crying as he described a hospital nurse noticing that his newborn son was slightly purple, and had a heart murmur. This led to the discovery of valve defect that required immediate surgery to restore blood flow between the heart and lungs. After thanking the doctors and his coworkers one by one, Kimmel pivoted to talk about the Affordable Care Act, former President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, which the House of Representatives could vote to repeal later this week.
“You know, before 2014, if you were born with a congenital heart disease like my son was, there was a good chance you’d never be able to get health insurance because you had a preexisting condition,” Kimmel says. “You were born with a preexisting condition, and if your parents didn’t have medical insurance, you might not even live long enough to even get denied because of a preexisting condition.”
That second sentence sounds like hyperbole, and the risk of getting your news from late-night talk show hosts. It’s not clear that hospitals were routinely letting babies die for lack of insurance, but they were taking on lots of bad debt for saving them. And those children could be denied good insurance because of that preexisting condition for the rest of their lives, possibly resulting in worse care for exactly the people who need healthcare the most.
This is not a hypothetical problem, but one that fundamentally shapes American life and entrepreneurship. Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician and health services researcher at Indiana University School of Medicine, recently wrote about how preexisting conditions shaped what he and his brother, a lawyer, thought they could expect from life. (Carroll has ulcerative colitis; his brother, Crohn’s disease. Both disorders cause the intestines to bleed.)
“When I was a resident, and he was a law student, we would talk often about how we would both have to work for very large companies or organizations in order to get healthcare,” Carroll writes. “It was a fact of life. We both knew that on the individual market, no insurance company would touch us. Ever. Because of our preexisting conditions, we’d be screwed for the rest of our lives.”