Jimmy Kimmel Is the Republicans' Worst Nightmare
The comedian's commentary on the GOP healthcare bill was powerful and brutal.
Jimmy Kimmel revealed himself to be a powerful voice in the healthcare debate back in May, when the late-night host surprised America with a heartfelt monologue recounting the moment when he learned his newborn son had a congenital heart defect. Although he didn't call out the Republican healthcare bill by name, Kimmel spoke out against allowing insurance companies to charge people with preexisting conditions more and reinstitute annual and lifetime caps, saying, "If your baby is going to die and it doesn't have to, it shouldn't matter how much money you make."
In response to Kimmel's monologue—which went viral and was embraced by opponents of Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act—Republican Louisiana senator Bill Cassidy appeared on the show a week later to agree with the idea that any healthcare reform should lower premiums and make sure families can get the care they need. Around the same time, Cassidy went on CNN and said that when it comes to creating new healthcare legislation, "I ask, does it pass the Jimmy Kimmel test? Would a child born with congenital heart disease be able to get everything he or she would need in that first year of life?"
Yet Cassidy's new bill, which he's sponsoring along with his Republican colleague, Lindsey Graham, decidedly does not pass the Jimmy Kimmel test. Instead, it would allow states to loosen standards on insurers who want to charge sick people more, roll back the Medicaid expansion that gave millions insurance, and effectively transfer money from blue states to red ones.
On Tuesday night, Kimmel spoke out against the bill and Cassidy in particular, chewing the senator out for "not being very honest" during his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!
"[Cassidy] got a lot of credit and attention for coming off like a rare, reasonable voice in the Republican Party when it came to healthcare for coming up with something he called—and I didn't name it this, he named it this—the Jimmy Kimmel test," he explained. "So last week, Bill Cassidy and Senator Lindsey Graham proposed a new bill, the Graham-Cassidy bill. And this new bill actually does pass the Jimmy Kimmel test, but a different Jimmy Kimmel test. 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 isn't a #resistance figure like fellow hosts Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers. But when Late Late Show star James Corden gets condemned for kissing former White House press secretary Sean Spicer (which Corden regrets), when Jimmy Fallon gets similarly dragged for tousling Donald Trump's hair that one time, it becomes increasingly obvious that in the Trump era, you can't have a platform and not address politics.
What helps Kimmel is that he comes off not as an anti-Trump crusader but an almost reluctant advocate for a personal issue. As Kimmel pointed out in his monologue last night:
By the way, before you post a nasty Facebook message saying I'm politicizing my son's health problems, I want you to know: I am politicizing my son's health problems because I have to. My family has health insurance. We don't have to worry about this. But other people do, so you can shove your disgusting comments where your doctor won't be giving you a prostate exam once they take your healthcare benefits away.
Our cultural reality demands that we "politicize" our healthcare experiences because, as journalist Elon Green aptly noted on Twitter, "every few weeks we have to call our lawmakers and beg them not to kill us." Celebrity voices innately (and perhaps unfairly) have more impact than that of a regular person. Who has insurance and who doesn't is a matter of life and death. A baby's heart condition is a death sentence, or it bankrupts her parents—or the insurance company pays, and it's fine. The debate going on right now in DC affects those babies, those families, on an intimate level.
On Tuesday night, Kimmel managed to accessibly lay out the dangers of the Graham-Cassidy bill to his 2.1 million viewers:
Coverage for all? No. Fact, it will kick about 30 million Americans off insurance. Preexisting conditions? Nope. If the bill passes, individual states can let insurance companies charge you more if you have a preexisting condition. You'll find that little loophole later in the document after it says they can't. They can, and they will. But will it lower premiums? Well, in fact, for lots of people, the bill will result in higher premiums. And as far as no lifetime caps go, the states can decide on that, too, which means there will be lifetime caps in many states. So not only did Bill Cassidy fail the Jimmy Kimmel test, he failed the Bill Cassidy test. He failed his own test. And you don't see that happen very much.
On Wednesday morning, Cassidy responded to Kimmel on CNN: "I'm sorry he does not understand. Under Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson, more people have coverage and we protect people with preexisting conditions."
But according to a Washington Post analysis of Kimmel's monologue, the comedian has a good understanding of the bill. When a late-night talk-show host is more honest about the dire consequences of pending legislation than the people who are voting on it, we have a serious problem.
Follow Eve Peyser on Twitter.