Taking Jimmy Kimmel’s lecture to heart
I don’t need comedian Jimmy Kimmel to lecture me on pre-existing conditions and insurance coverage. Earlier this week, the funny man made national headlines for the most serious of reasons: his son was born with a congenital heart defect and required emergency surgery to save his life. The emotional roller coaster caused Kimmel to speak out on current attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Specifically, he denounced the provisions that would affect how insurance companies cover anyone with a pre-existing health condition. It is among the core issues faced by Congress today.
Kimmel’s heartfelt advocacy drew the ire of some and rebukes from others. Most detractors lambasted Kimmel for using his celebrity to speak out, as though he should forfeit his First Amendment rights because he happens to be household name. I had a very different reaction to Kimmel speaking on the topic.
When she was born, my step-daughter Bailey had a congenital heart defect. Or, more precisely as my wife Lori corrected me, three defects. Bailey required immediate intervention and surgery. To this day, my wife cannot talk about the first few weeks of Bailey’s life without tearing up.
Luckily, Lori had insurance through her employer and not only did Bailey get the help she needed, she got it from the pre-eminent pediatric surgeon in the world, Dr. Roger Mee at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Mee’s exploits in saving children’s lives is so renowned that a journalist once chronicled his work in a book entitled “Walk on Water.” If you want to know a little about what Kimmel’s family and my wife went through, give it a read. But buy a lot of Kleenex first.
This is where Kimmel and I diverge. He focused on the here and now and the care that a child in an emergency might receive. It is understandable given the immediacy of his situation. But if he fast-forwards twenty years, he’ll be in my shoes.
Today, Bailey has many pre-existing conditions. She is whip smart and funny, able to crack wry jokes that would do Kimmel proud. She is an honors student hoping to become a children’s speech therapist. She is beautiful in a way that makes me stare down would-be ooglers when she is walking with us at a Rockies game. In a few weeks, she will celebrate her twenty-first birthday in Las Vegas with her two best friends – her mother and her Nana. Bailey grew up playing softball, performing in dance troupes, and loving the Grinch who stole Christmas before overcoming his own heart defect. And every few years she needs to go in for a check-up. The last one a few weeks ago again went well.
In a few years, though, Bailey won’t be covered by our medical insurance any longer. When that happens, I worry that the plans currently being proposed in Congress will be a greater obstacle to happiness than her heart ever posed. By allowing states to waive out of the ACA requirement that insurers cover pre-existing conditions, it limits where she could live. While any native Coloradan may joke about living in Texas as its own pre-existing condition, it wouldn’t be nearly as funny if someone like Bailey cannot pursue her life ambitions without risking her health. And when she wants to get married and have her own children, it makes me bristle to believe that she could be priced-out of prenatal care due to the cost associated with high-risk insurance pools. Hopefully amendments from members like Rep. Fred Upton from Michigan will way-lay these concerns.
There are many problems with the ACA. Both Republicans and Democrats acknowledge that truth. Health care is complex and we have learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t since its enactment. But when it comes to pre-existing conditions, I know an amazing 20-year-old woman who exemplifies its benefits.
Mario Nicolais of Lakewood is a constitutional scholar and managing partner of KBN Law firm. Follow him on Twitter:@MarioNicolaiEsq