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How Jimmy Kimmel Failed His Own Test


On May 12, late-night personality Jimmy Kimmel gave a now-famous monologue about his newborn son’s health complications, concluding with a politicized message against Trump’s budget and health care reforms. Although Kimmel avoided directly implicating Republicans or Trump, he delivered his “heartfelt plea” immediately following the passage of the Republican American Health Care Act (AHCA) in the House of Representatives, making it obvious whom Kimmel hoped to address. Not only did this subtle political jab give Kimmel a much-needed ratings boost, his speech, which ended with the phrase, “no parents should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life,” has come to be known among politicians as the “Kimmel test.”

Ironically, Kimmel has failed his own test and contradicted his call for national unity by politicizing his son’s condition and misrepresenting the Republican budgetary and health care reforms.

Despite Kimmel’s assertion, there has not been a case of a child in the United States dying because his parents were too poor to afford treatment since 1986, when a law was passed barring hospitals and emergency rooms from turning any patients away. None of this would change under the Trump administration.

Kimmel should know, after his son received treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (which runs largely off of donations), that American commitment to helping those in need transcends political party and platform. Americans donate a greater percentage to charity than any other country, far outpacing the “generous” socialist societies of Europe. Unlike taxation and socialized medicine, this profoundly American altruism does not come from a government mandate but from the heart, and will continue to ensure that the infirm, regardless of income, receive the care they need.

When it comes to what could change under Trump, Kimmel’s plea appeared equally uninformed. Trump’s requested cut in NIH funding, which Kimmel censured (it has since been dismissed by Congressional Republicans), would not affect anyone’s access to medical care but rather shrink government-subsidized biomedical research. Having worked for years in cancer research, I can attest to the fact that pharmaceutical companies, rather than the NIH, fund a vast majority of the research that leads to breakthrough medical innovations and cures. A far greater impediment to progress than tight government funding is the regulatory burden that has befallen insurance and pharmaceutical companies under the Obama administration, which Trump aims to roll back.

Reforms in health insurance coverage under the Republican AHCA would likewise not impede sickly children from receiving essential care. Kids are born covered by their parents’ insurance plan, and parents currently on government assistance would still retain their Medicaid under Trump. While Obama greatly expanded Medicaid benefits, Trump has proposed to freeze this growth, maintaining current Medicaid recipients but judging prospective enrollees based on pre-Obama standards. There were no throngs of dying Americans on the streets in 2006, and there will be none under Trump, as Kimmel, NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio and even Hillary Clinton have suggested.

State-run programs for children who fall through the cracks, such as Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), would likewise not be directly affected by federal health care reforms. Critics argue that the Republican AHCA bill would give states more freedom to cut funding to CHIP or Medicaid, which, in other words, simply means making local legislatures, which are more attuned to the needs and challenges of their respective communities, responsible for maintaining their health safety nets. When the ACA guaranteed Medicaid for everyone within 133% of the national poverty line, it failed to recognize that that income can translate to vastly different qualities of life in different parts of the country. Local and state governments know the economies, health coverage gaps and mentalities of their constituencies, and are far easier to hold accountable for their shortcomings. Reverting to the original federalist system our nation was founded upon would go a long way towards alleviating an ever more polarized political climate by allowing communities to manage their own safety nets and live by their own values.

There is risk inherent in everything, including living. Thus, health insurance exists to protect against the unfortunate and often unpredictable human tragedies of genetic defects and illness. But although the insurance model mitigates random risk, it is not meant to eliminate the consequences of personal choices. Recent research has suggested that the greatest determinant of health outcomes is lifestyle. This may explain why 5% of patients, who suffer from multiple preventable chronic conditions, account for over 50% of health care spending, leaving the rest of us to foot their bill. One way to disincentivize poor choices (such as smoking, drinking, or failing to exercise) is to allow for personalized insurance premiums. The AHCA does exactly that: by repealing “essential” universal health benefits and allowing for greater variation in premium cost for patients with costly, preventable conditions, the AHCA gives the power over health care costs back to the people. Moreover, by charging extra for lapses in coverage, it discourages social loafing by those who wait to purchase insurance until they fall sick. These reforms are not, as the critics have cried, a punishment of mothers or cancer patients — they are a core tenet of the insurance model, without which, none of us would be able to afford health care at all. Risky drivers pay more for car insurance, mountain climbers pay more for life insurance, and thus, patients who make expensive choices should pay more for health insurance.

Although the AHCA is currently undergoing revisions in the Senate, and the effect it will ultimately have on American health care remains unclear, there is no indication that our neediest citizens, or even a significant proportion of Americans, will be adversely affected. If anything, the AHCA is currently projected (by the CBO) to slightly lower the cost of insurance, making it more accessible to everyone. It is irresponsible of politicians and talk-show hosts alike to make heavy-handed assumptions and accusation without having all the facts at hand, especially in a sector like health care where lives hang in the balance. Returning the zeitgeist of American health care to a prior state which emphasized personal responsibility and choice over government intervention should not be confused with the defective straw-man argument of leaving infants out to die.

Kimmel’s reckless and manipulative emotional rhetoric, which seemed to suggest that Trump is coming after our children’s health care, does not stand up to the litmus test of reality. Obama, by passing the ACA, expanded medical benefits and subsidies to an unsustainable level, greatly contributing to a ballooning 20 trillion dollar debt and imperiling the future of American medicine. Those earnestly concerned for our children’s prospects are looking for ways to spend more efficiently and provide a lasting health care safety net. Ultimately, Kimmel was half-right: the fate of our children does rest upon this budget and health care plan.

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of in-Training or the in-Training Editorial Board.

Adam Barsouk Adam Barsouk (3 Posts)

Pre-Medical Guest Writer

Pennsylvania State University-Sidney Kimmel Medical College Accelerated BS/MD Program


Adam Barsouk is currently a student of Pre-medicine, Health Policy and Administration, and Anthropology at the Pennsylvania State University-Jefferson Medical College accelerated BS/MD program. As a son of Soviet Jewish escapees, Adam values the opportunity and freedom that America has provided his family, and as a current cancer researcher at the University of Pittsburgh and an aspiring physician, hopes to share this commitment by liberating the infirm from the chains of chronic disease and suffering. Adam speaks 6 languages, has visited over 30 countries, and enjoys recounting his experiences while also learning anything he can from the people and places around him.


  • Kate Joyce

    To be clear, I have never voted for a US president – only against….and I don’t ascribe to any political party nor do I think the ACA was the way to go. I agree with some of the points made in this piece, but it contains a number of false and/or misleading statements.

    “It is irresponsible of politicians and talk-show hosts alike to make heavy-handed assumptions and accusation without having all the facts at hand, especially in a sector like health care where lives hang in the balance.”

    It is equally as irresponsible (and “reckless” to use the author’s words) for a medical student to cite sources when the actual sources either refute or are unrelated to the text. I’ve included example below, on the off chance someone is interested.

    Children were not entirely safe before or under the ACA, and parents ARE having to make choices about medical care. I worked for 7 years in pediatrics before medical school. It happens. Feeding tube supplements get watered down, pills cut in half (which you get in the elderly as well) so parents can pay bills. Let’s not pretend ACA solved this or that AHCA is going to.

    1) EMTALA is cited in this piece via FreeLawAdvice.com. I would encourage people to read the actual legislation or read about where it fit into COBRA. Actual legislation here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/108th-congress/house-bill/1382/text ACEP has a good summary: https://www.acep.org/news-media-top-banner/emtala/ EMTALA is an unfunded mandate that has caused headaches for many. It generally protects someone in an emergency situation – a patient can still get transferred after they’ve been stabilized.

    2) We do not know whether or not “there has not been a case of a child in the United States dying because his parents were too poor to afford treatment since 1986.” In fact, research published in 2009 (post-EMTALA) indicated that 17,000 child deaths were likely linked to their lack of or limited health insurance (https://www.scholars.northwestern.edu/en/publications/analysis-of-23-million-us-hospitalizations-uninsured-children-hav)

    3) “Unlike taxation and socialized medicine, this profoundly American altruism does not come from a government mandate but from the heart, and will continue to ensure that the infirm, regardless of income, receive the care they need.” You cannot separate charity from tax code in this country, and I will not even begin to evaluate the argument that hospitals should somehow create sustainability models or accept whether or not they expand based off of a donor-based system. However – donations are not entirely from the heart. There is data showing links between donations and changes to taxation – so the two are linked. From WSJ (https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-surprising-relationship-between-taxes-and-charitable-giving-1450062191) “A higher tax rate tends to favor charitable giving, because it gives people a larger charitable deduction, and hence a lower price of giving. If you pay tax at the 28% rate, for example, the “price” of making a $1 donation is 72 cents, because you get 28 cents back as long as you itemize the deduction on your tax return. If your tax rate is 40%, making a donation becomes even cheaper: Your price is 60 cents.” Fortune similarly pointed out how the “American altruism” is in fact tied to higher tax breaks “There are several reasons for this discrepancy. First, the tax break is a deduction, which means it can only be claimed by people who itemize their tax returns. That rules out the 70% of taxpayers who don’t itemize. Second, because the expenditure is structured as a deduction, people in higher tax brackets can use it to net greater savings. Say a person in the 35% tax bracket donates $1000. If he or she deducts the contribution, his or her tax bill is reduced by 35% of $1000, or $350. Meanwhile, someone with a tax rate of 20% who donates the same amount of money will only save $200. As a result, it’s cheaper for wealthy people to donate money.” http://fortune.com/2012/11/27/its-time-to-fix-the-charitable-deduction/

    4) “I can attest to the fact that pharmaceutical companies, rather than the NIH, fund a vast majority of the research that leads to breakthrough medical innovations and cures.” The article cited is fantastic….but based on that article citation, this is false. From the original piece: “U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies spent $7.3 billion on R&D, exceeding the $7.1 billion that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) spent on biomedical research.” ($7.3 to $7.1 is hardly “vast majority.” R&D for drugs is certainly a hot-button topic, but the article cited is from 1991 and suggests that the government get INCREASED funding. It mentioned “One of the most important public policies that would significantly encourage pharmaceutical R&D in this country is increased government support of basic research through the NIH and the National Science Foundation. As a major source of basic biomedical research, training of scientists, and research funding for U.S. universities, the NIH has provided a tremendously fertile support structure for drug development by the industry.” Certainly the private sector pours more money into R&D. However, there is little interest in R&D of needed drugs like antibiotics, which is understandable since they’re not profitable.

    5) “When the ACA guaranteed Medicaid for everyone within 133% of the national poverty line, it failed to recognize that that income can translate to vastly different qualities of life in different parts of the country.” Medicaid expansion was NOT guaranteed under the ACA. In fact, the Supreme Court found the expansion unconstitutional and left it up to the states. The link in the article makes it clear, but the author seems to have ignored the website cited. http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/31/8/1663.full

    6) “Obama, by passing the ACA, expanded medical benefits and subsidies to an unsustainable level, greatly contributing to a ballooning 20 trillion dollar debt and imperiling the future of American medicine.” I’m sure the ACA did increase the national debt, but the citation – US DebtClock.org is not the best source for evaluating US finances. I was hoping the citation would help me out with this one, but from the best I can tell….the debt definitely went up under the Obama administration, but whether or not that’s “greatly” due to the ACA or how that imperils the future of American medicine (vs agricultural subsidies or education which usually get chopped earlier) I am unclear. An article that might be of interest: https://www.thebalance.com/cost-of-obamacare-3306050

    7) “If anything, the AHCA is currently projected (by the CBO) to slightly lower the cost of insurance, making it more accessible to everyone.” Again, using the article cited, it specifically says SOME people would see premiums fall but there is NOTHING to suggest that insurance would become more accessible to everyone, as suggested in this article. “The CBO’s assessment shows that the deficit would fall and premiums would fall for some Americans, but the report also raises potential concerns about the bill. The agency reports that the bill could destabilize individual insurance markets in some states, leaving unhealthy Americans unable to buy insurance.”

    This author is a good writer, but I hope he continues to develop his journalistic skills in the future.

  • Matt

    There’s troubling moralism here. You can obviously make a good case that lifestyle-related illnesses merit higher premiums, but punishing a poor person for having smoked won’t cure their COPD. It will, however, clog your ERs with self-pay (no pay) COPD exacerbations and raise all of our premiums. I understand your frustration with the left’s indiscriminate support of poor people and perhaps their canonization of such people who, yes, can often be observed making bad decisions. We can’t keep revisiting this philosophical argument, though. It’s the same one that equates drug use with moral failure. We can either spend money on recovery for people who, having chosen to use drugs, don’t technically deserve it, or we can bear the burden of their petty crime and imprisonment. The same is true for healthcare. We can either dedicate society’s resources to health maintenance (though it may be unearned) in hopes that it may contribute along with other efforts to greater independence, or we can bear the burden of emergency care.

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