ighting back tears, comedian Jimmy Kimmel opened his Monday night show by talking about the recent birth of his son Billy — and how an alert nurse detected a heart defect in the baby just hours after birth. After emergency consultations, a team at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles carried out a delicate surgery to save the newborn.
And since the personal is always political, Kimmel turned his story into a plea to protect coverage for people with preexisting conditions, at a time when Congress is debating that very issue.
“Before 2014, if you were born with 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 said.
“If your parents didn’t have medical insurance, you might not live long enough to even get denied because of a preexisting condition,” he continued. Babies shouldn’t die when surgery can save them, he said — and “it shouldn’t matter how much money you make.”
The segment, including a heart-wrenching picture of Billy covered with bandages and tubes, racked up hundreds of thousands of views overnight. Within hours, advocates on social media were using the clip to reinforce demands that Republicans preserve patient protections embedded in the Affordable Care Act. (Other viewers, meanwhile, took to Twitter to criticize Kimmel for politicizing his son’s health.)
As Kimmel noted, Obamacare extended health insurance to millions of low-income Americans and guaranteed that people with preexisting conditions could not be charged more for coverage or excluded from policies.
Several people suggested watching Jimmy Kimmel's monologue from tonight. Watch it all. Breathe. Then call Congress.https://t.co/w27z7Pq2L9
— Andy Slavitt (@ASlavitt) May 2, 2017
President Trump has said that any replacement measure needs to preserve Obamacare’s coverage for preexisting conditions. But the latest plan put forth by House Republicans would leave room for insurers to charge more to anyone who has had an ailment in the past. That amendment was added to attract support from conservative members; analysts have warned that it could put the cost of insurance out of reach for many. The bill would also leave room for insurers to offer skimpy plans that don’t cover hospitalization, maternity care, newborn care, or other services.
On his show, Kimmel made the case that discriminating against those with preexisting conditions is un-American:
“No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life. It just shouldn’t happen. Not here.”
Kimmel also noted that Congress this week agreed to boost funding for the National Institutes of Health by $2 billion this year, even though President Trump has called for cutting the agency’s budget. The NIH funds biomedical research around the country. “I applaud them for doing that,” Kimmel said.
Kimmel’s son Billy was born April 21 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and at first appeared healthy. But within a few hours, a nurse noticed he had a heart murmur and was turning purple.
The baby was moved into the neonatal ICU, where a team of doctors and nurses examined him. A pediatric cardiologist discovered that Billy had congenital defects in his heart, including a hole between the left and right sides of his heart and a clogged pump.
His child w heart disease, like mine & the 27% of people w serious health conditions, now relies on pre-existing condition protections. https://t.co/wsNexUY2DP
— Atul Gawande (@Atul_Gawande) May 2, 2017
Billy was taken to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where, last Monday, he underwent a surgery to start the repairs. “It was the longest three hours of my life, but it was a success,” Kimmel said.
Billy will have to have another surgery in a few months, but the Kimmels were able to bring him home last week.
Kimmel used his monologue to thank all the nurses, technicians, and doctors who helped save his baby’s life. And given that it was a late-night talk show, he did slip in a few jokes as well.
When he showed a picture of baby Billy after he had been brought home, Kimmel deadpanned: “Poor kid. Not only did he get a bad heart, he got my face.”