Kimmel, Congress Teach How (Not) to Message on Health Care

Published May 10, 2017

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Students of the Obamacare replacement effort were assigned two lessons in health care policy messaging in the past week, courtesy of comic television host Jimmy Kimmel and Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID). Would the class like to guess who taught which lesson?

One speaker demonstrated the persuasive power of emotional assertions not grounded in reason or fact. The other speaker demonstrated the futility of using only reason and fact to persuade an emotional audience. These lessons are especially true of health care policy debates, which frequently and irrationally place the interests of the few ahead of those of the many, thereby failing to serve either group well.

In the opening monologue of ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live on May 2, Kimmel shared a sobering, tear-filled story about his newborn son, Billy, who was rushed into lifesaving open-heart surgery days after birth:

My wife was in bed relaxing when a very attentive nurse at Cedars-Sinai hospital … was checking him out and heard a murmur in his heart, which is common with newborn babies, but she also noticed that he was a bit purple, which is not common.

He is right. Purple and baby don’t mix well. The slightest commerce between these nouns is a terrifying prospect for any parent, as I can attest from the experience of my daughter Betsy’s birth (which, I am thankful, was a far easier fix than Billy Kimmel’s complication). Fortunately, Billy’s problem appears to have resolved, too.

Kimmel eventually segued from telling his son’s birth story to defending the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which, Kimmel posits, enables babies to obtain lifesaving emergency procedures:

We were brought up to believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, but until a few years ago, millions and millions of us had no access to health insurance at all. You know, before 2014, if you were born with congenital heart disease like my son was, there was a good chance you would never be able to get health insurance because you had a preexisting condition. You were born with a preexisting condition, and if your parents didn’t have medical insurance, you might not even live long enough to get denied because of a preexisting 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 now, whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, or something else, we all agree on that, right? I mean, we do.

Kimmel concludes that because everyone agrees babies shouldn’t be left to die due to their family’s income level, Congress should vote to keep ACA:

Whatever your party, whatever you believe, whoever you support, we need to make sure that people who are supposed to represent us – and people who are meeting about this right now in Washington – understand that very clearly. Let’s stop with the nonsense. This isn’t football, there are no teams. We are the team, it’s the United States. Don’t let their partisan squabbles divide us on something every decent person wants. We need to take care of each other. I saw a lot of families there, and no parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life. It just shouldn’t happen. Not here.

Certainly, no parent should have to make such a choice. What Kimmel appears to misunderstand, however, is that neither babies nor adults are denied emergency procedures in the United States due to their insured status or ability to pay.

Moreover, as Aaron Bandler wrote for The Daily Wire, “everyone wishes Kimmel’s baby all the best but it is not a case for Obamacare.”

For starters, Kimmel’s son was treated at a charity care hospital with a $233 million budget funded by community philanthropists. Kimmel’s story illustrates how effective charity care can be at delivering needed health care, in contrast to a centrally planned government system, Bandler writes.

Kimmel also misunderstands that before ACA, employer-sponsored and government-sponsored health insurance plans were required to cover preexisting conditions. Everyone else represents the “individual market.” The number of people in this market with preexisting conditions who were unable to obtain health insurance before ACA was less than 120,000-a slight percentage of the individual market, according to research Bandler attributes to Forbes opinion editor and health care policy expert Avik Roy.

The gravity and sincerity of Kimmel’s story of his son’s birth and emergency condition do not make his story relevant to Obamacare, 80 percent of whose beneficiaries obtain insurance through Medicaid (government-sponsored health insurance). Nor did Kimmel’s story stop the U.S. House of Representatives from passing the American Health Care Act (AHCA) to repeal major parts of Obamacare on May 4. But with more than 10.3 million views on YouTube, Kimmel’s emotional message sure was popular.

The same cannot be said for Idaho Rep. Raúl Labrador’s message at a town hall meeting defending his vote for AHCA, also on YouTube. “You are mandating people on Medicaid accept dying,” a constituent said. Labrador countered, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” The crowd erupted.

Technically, Labrador is right, for reasons Bandler outlined for Kimmel fans. But mere facts do not a persuasive argument make-certainly not to an audience afraid the bill you’re trying to make into law will kill them (even though it won’t).

AHCA is a long way from perfect, and House Republicans should have used it to give patients more control over their health care dollars than AHCA would.

But instead of promising people AHCA will not kill them, the Republican message should be what most people, including Obamacare enrollees, already know: Obamacare’s soaring premiums, uselessly high deductibles, limited choice of providers, and stranglehold on competition is killing them. AHCA may not be the cure-but it could prove a defibrillator.

– Michael T. Hamilton ([email protected], @MikeFreeMarket) is a Heartland Institute research fellow and managing editor of Health Care News, author of the weekly Consumer Power Report, and host of the Health Care News Podcast.



Arkansas lawmakers voted Tuesday to move 60,000 people off the state’s hybrid Medicaid expansion plan and require some remaining participants to work, despite Democrats’ complaints that the restrictions are too burdensome and at least one conservative Republican’s complaint that they aren’t tough enough.

The House voted 71–23 for the new restrictions, while the Senate approved an identical measure 23–9. Final votes are expected on the measures Wednesday before lawmakers wrap up a special session focused on the program, which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for low-income residents.

More than 300,000 people are enrolled in the program, which was created four years ago as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson earlier this year proposed the new restrictions, which must also be approved by the federal government. …

The proposed changes would lower the eligibility cap for those on the hybrid expansion from 138 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent. The 60,000 people who would no longer qualify for the program would be eligible for subsidies to purchase coverage through the insurance marketplace. …

SOURCE: Andrew DeMillo, Arkansas Works


Florida’s legislative session will end without a major overhaul of the state’s health care system, but all eyes are on what’s expected at the federal level as Congress considers repealing and replacing “Obamacare.”

The federal legislation passed the House on Thursday, with Florida members of Congress voting along party lines.

State House Republicans generally support the measure, which would give states more control over implementing health care.

Under the new U.S. House bill, states could receive lump-sum payments for their federal portion of Medicaid money, impose work requirements for some Medicaid beneficiaries, raise prices for sick customers, charge more to older patients and set up their own essential benefits.

The Senate is expected to write its own health care legislation, taking part but not all of the House bill.

“The nice thing is we have Washington pushing from on high in a positive way to make more marketplace-type decisions,” said Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

SOURCE: Alexandra Glorioso and Arek Sarkissian, Naples Daily News


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first new drug for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, since 1995. The treatment, Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma America’s Radicava, is just the second medicine for ALS approved in the U.S. (the other being Sanofi’s Rilutek).

ALS is a rare, progressive disease that affects about 12,000 to 15,000 Americans. The disorder eats away at motor functions and disrupts voluntary muscles; patients usually die within three to five years of the first symptoms as they lose their ability to breathe. …

SOURCE: Sy Mukherjee, Fortune


The importation of prescription drugs from foreign markets has emerged as a quick-fix proposal to enhance affordability and patient access. Supporters believe the fundamental goal is laudable, however, the risks far outweigh the benefits. Importation would threaten and destabilize the significant industry-government collaboration already underway to ensure the safety and security of the domestic pharmaceutical supply chain.

This week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee convenes to consider legislation surrounding the reauthorization of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act. …

Such a proposal will dismantle the hard work supply chain stakeholders and regulators have undertaken since the passage of the groundbreaking Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) nearly four years ago. …

Importation proposals currently on the table would not fully incorporate the critical provisions established by the DSCSA, which are necessary to ensure the integrity of the U.S. drug supply and ultimately, patient safety. …

SOURCE: John M. Gray and Steven C. Anderson, The Hill