WHAT: A wrenching personal story that doubles as a plea to fix Obamacare, rather than repeal it.
WHO: Jimmy Kimmel.
“My understanding is that it will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool. That helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy. And right now those are the people—who’ve done things the right way—that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.”
Congressman Brooks is the latest politician to broadly paint those who have pre-existing conditions as selfish sinners taking advantage of the righteous among us, who choose to avoid a lifestyle that attracts cancer. As a cold calculation, it might make sense to charge more for health insurance to those who are at higher risk of needing it. However, that morally bankrupt equation only makes sense if one is completely devoid of empathy, and has never met an otherwise healthy person afflicted with a sneaky disease. It’s possible some of the people making these decisions, or their constituents, haven’t even tried to imagine such a person. Enter Jimmy Kimmel.
His voice is already quivering when he launches into his monologue. That should be the first clue that Kimmel is about to deviate from his usual talk show rhythms. “I have a story to tell about something that happened to our family last week,” he starts, before warning viewers–mercifully–that the story has a happy ending. The warning is helpful, because the story itself is the nightmare of every single parent, expecting or otherwise.
What follows is the harrowing tale of how Kimmel and his wife, the very funny comedy writer, Molly McNearney, almost lost their newborn infant son. In horrifyingly vivid detail, the host recounts how their baby, Billy, was born with a heart disease, and needed surgery immediately. The ‘happy ending’ part arrives when, after a few days of touch-and-go, Billy survived. He will very likely need surgery again in the future, but for now, he’s okay. Going through this experience, however, made Kimmel and McNearney keenly aware of how lucky they were to be able to afford for their baby to be okay. At this point, the host pivots from the personal to the political, without switching subjects.
“Until a few years ago, millions and millions of us had no access to health insurance at all . . . before 2014, if you were born with congenital heart disease, like my son was, there’s a good chance you’d never be able to get health insurance, because you had a pre-existing condition. And if your parents didn’t have insurance, you may not even live long enough to get denied because of your pre-existing condition. 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 that whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we all agree on that, right?”
It’s rare for a talk show host to deviate so sharply from format with a heartbreaking personal story, and almost as rare for one to make an explicitly political plea for health care. Jimmy Kimmel’s experience was so devastating, he decided he had to use his large national platform to make that plea. Maybe it won’t take such an experience to move the average constituent toward making a similar plea to their congressperson before the latest version of the current healthcare bill gets put to a vote. Maybe it’ll just take hearing about it from a talk show host.