I had a quick appearance on CNN with Don Lemon last night (watch it here). Pretty much everyone has been talking about Jimmy Kimmel’s beautiful monologue about his son Billy, who was born a few weeks ago with complex congenital heart defects. It’s thoughtful and eloquent (and still funny!), all the more so because he delivered it so soon after Billy’s first open heart surgery. Their family is just beginning to process this diagnosis and the traumatic journey they’re now on. But he recognized the importance of using his platform to raise awareness about protecting the Affordable Care Act, as the Republicans try once again to take it down.
The folks at CNN Tonight asked me to speak about the importance of ACA provisions like protections for pre-existing conditions because of this Slate piece that I wrote back in January, during Trumpcare’s beta attack. What’s funny/depressing is that when I was reporting that story, most of the experts I interviewed told me not to worry so much about the pre-existing condition thing — it was super popular with voters and therefore supposed to be the one issue that Republicans and Democrats could agree needed to stay in place. (After all, both Clinton and Trump campaigned on it.) But the truth is Trumpcare’s first failure to reach a vote was as much a liberal victory as it was the House Freedom Caucus holding it hostage. They’re the ultra-conservative bunch that object to basically everything about increasing access to healthcare. (See Mo Brooks of Alabama, who told CNN earlier this week that “people who lead good lives” don’t tend to have pre-existing conditions, so why should they pay to protect them?) And now they’re pressuring other Republicans to jump ship on this issue in an effort to get something passed and redeem Trump’s image as the deal maker who can’t get it done.
But otherwise, nothing has changed. This provision is popular because it’s necessary: As many as 129 million Americans have pre-existing conditions and the kind of life they’re leading has nothing to do with it. 105 million Americans (including 27 million children) have benefited from the ACA’s ban on lifetime limits and could be left scrambling for coverage under the new plan. And to bring it back to kids like Violet and Billy: Babies with birth defects are 45 percent more likely to die in their first year of life if they have Medicaid coverage versus private insurance. Now imagine how much worse that death rate will get if even Medicaid is beyond their reach. As Kimmel said Monday night, “if your baby is going to die and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make.” But in the United States, it does. And if Republicans get their way, it’s going to matter a hell of a lot more.