Jimmy Kimmel’s story does not mean Obamacare is working

On Tuesday morning, social media began to explode with what seemed like a refreshing break from the charged partisan bickering that’s been dominating post-election political discourse.

In a tearful — and tear-jerking — monologue, late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel explained how he and his wife had nearly lost their newborn son just days before.

The author and her sister as newborns

Countless people had already shared it in my own feed before I had a moment to watch. Perhaps as someone born a “preemie” out of a high-risk pregnancy or someone who is soon to be an aunt for the first time, I found the story hitting close to home and wasn’t even fighting the tears as Kimmel told it.

A “very attentive nurse” noticed his son’s odd coloring and heart murmur after birth — and a team of world-class medical professionals saved little Billy’s life after discovering that he had a rare congenital heart condition. The open-heart surgery was a success. Cue post-surgery baby pictures. Cue tears. Jimmy thanked a list of people who had helped save his son. Cue more tears.

And then — a strange little moment that started to explain just why this clip was going so viral to begin with. He said:

“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 pre-existing condition. You were born with a pre-existing condition. And if your parents didn’t have medical insurance, you might not live long enough to even get denied because of a pre-existing condition.”
Kimmel on ABC

That statement takes a bit to unpack, but it is worth pointing out that its very first assumption is faulty.

The idea that a plan — any plan — in Congress right now will fundamentally change preexisting condition coverage is just wrong. The fact that the AHCA left many such mandates in place is a part of why many fiscal conservatives objected to its first iteration; the new version being considered now is a step in the right direction by allowing states to opt out, but is simply not the sort of radical shift that Kimmel was suggesting.

The reason that so many fiscal conservatives object to these types of mandates is not just because they are so expensive — but that they don’t work. As Dr. Jeffrey Singer points out in US News and World Report, Obamacare mandates basically decimated the options for dealing with preexisting conditions with the added benefit of making coverage more expensive for everyone, sick or healthy.

But for Billy’s case, Obamacare is basically irrelevant. As Hadley Heath Manning writes in Washington Examiner, “even before Obamacare, insurance companies added newborn infants at standard rates, regardless of their health condition” as long as babies were added within 30 days.

Outside of that time frame, new parents did risk not getting affordable coverage. People did struggle. But the image conjured of newborns dying in the hospital as insurers slammed the door in poverty-stricken parents’ faces is not quite rooted in reality.

What’s more, what status quo defenders forget is that so many people are still struggling. Before, some estimates suggest that about .3% of Americans truly could not get coverage. Now? Almost everyone deals with unaffordable coverage, while millions of people have lost their insurance and billions of dollars get added to the national debt.

Friedrich Hayek famously said, “the curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design,” and nowhere is that statement more prescient than in viewing the federal government’s bungling attempts to deal with healthcare.

Burdensome or outdated regulatory systems, rapidly increasing technology, rising demand plus lowered supply, a decoupling of consumer and provider — none of these problems are new. Milton Friedman diagnosed many of them nearly twenty years ago. They certainly existed before Obamacare, and they still exist under the weight of a groaning and nearly collapsed government Band-aid that has effectively driven up costs for all in its attempt to help some.

Luckily for fiscal hawks, the American people are realizing the mistake that has been made. Only 20% support keeping the status quo.

And so, perhaps, the last resort is to abandon the facts entirely and appeal straight to emotion. Any parent — no, any person — would find it hard to watch Kimmel’s segment and be unmoved.

But we can’t forget the thousands of Billys across the country, those from working families who have to choose between tax penalties they can’t afford or bad health care they also can’t afford. The Affordable Care Act had nothing to do with Billy’s story, but it has everything to do with theirs. Fiscal conservatives owe it to them to keep fighting for better solutions.