Caught in a lie, Sen. Bill Cassidy lashes out at Jimmy Kimmel

The inventor of the Jimmy Kimmel test takes aim at Jimmy Kimmel.

CREDIT: SCREENGRAB
CREDIT: SCREENGRAB

During his show on Tuesday night, Jimmy Kimmel called Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) a liar.

“A few months ago after my son had open heart surgery, which was something I spoke about on the air, a politician, a Senator named Bill Cassidy from Louisiana was on my show and he wasn’t very honest,” Kimmel said, going on to describe how Cassidy, during the interview on his show, came up with the concept of the “Jimmy Kimmel test” — which holds that “[n]o family should be denied medical care, emergency or otherwise, because they can’t afford it.”

“He agreed to that,” Kimmel said on Tuesday in reference to Cassidy. “He said he would only support a health care bill that made sure a child like mine would get the health coverage he needs, no matter how much money his parents make.”

But now, Cassidy is a cosponsor of the latest Republican effort to repeal Obamacare — the so-called Graham-Cassidy bill. And Graham-Cassidy fails the Kimmel test. As ThinkProgress previously detailed, the bill allows states to allow insurers to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions, charging them more and possibly pricing them out of the market. A child like Jimmy Kimmel’s son who needs surgery could hit his lifetime cap before he even makes it out of the hospital.

Kimmel, alluding to that reality on Tuesday, said the only way Cassidy’s bill passes the Kimmel test is that “your child with a pre-existing condition will get the care he needs if, and only if, his father is Jimmy Kimmel… otherwise, you might be screwed.”

On Wednesday morning, Cassidy tried to respond to Kimmel. First, he released a statement to reporters that didn’t address Kimmel’s criticism directly, but instead asserted that there’s at least one family out there that will receive coverage through his bill. (The uninsured rate in America has hit all-time lows under Obamacare.)

“We have a September 30th deadline on our promise,” Cassidy’s statement says. “Let’s finish the job. We must because there is a mother and father whose child will have insurance because of Graham Cassidy Heller Johnson.”

During a subsequent interview on CNN, Cassidy asserted that Kimmel doesn’t understand his bill.

“I’m sorry he does not understand,” Cassidy said of Kimmel. “Under Graham Cassidy Heller Johnson, more people will have coverage, and we protect those with preexisting conditions. States like Maine, Virginia, Florida, Missouri — there will be billions more dollars to provide health insurance coverage for those in those states who have been passed by by Obamacare, and we protect those with preexisting conditions.”

Cassidy’s claims are false. While the idea behind Graham-Cassidy is to shift federal health care funding from Democratic states to Republican ones (“Maine, Virginia, Florida, Missouri”), the block grants states would receive would steadily decline. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities found that Graham-Cassidy’s $239 billion cut over the next decade would not only hurt blue states, but also red ones like Alaska, Arizona, and Maine.

With regard to protecting people with preexisting conditions, Cassidy is quick to point a provision in his bill requiring any state that applies for a waiver to describe “how the state intends to maintain adequate and affordable health insurance coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions.”

But as Chris Sloan, senior manager at the health research firm Avalere, told Vox, states “could stretch the definition pretty broadly of what counts.”

“Maybe you fund a high-risk pool that only allows in some number of people, and that counts,” he said. “It’s a pretty wide space.”

During his second TV interview of the morning on Tuesday, Cassidy was pressed about the latitude his bill would give insurers to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions.

“What specifically [do] ‘adequate and affordable’ mean?” an MSNBC host asked him. “Those are vague terms — can mean different things to different people. Who decides what’s affordable to a family, because that’s very different to family A than to family B?”

Cassidy dodged.

“As in the Affordable Care Act, as in this bill, there is some discretion on things that are allowed,” he said. “But for example, we think that if you say ‘adequate and affordable,’ a reasonable person would say, ‘It’s gotta be around the same price.’ Now it’s possible that someone has a different definition of ‘affordable,’ but typically those people who have different definitions are trying to protect Obamacare, think it’s the only way, and therefore they attempt to discredit our plan.”

An analysis by Andy Slavitt, who ran the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Obama, found that 32 million people could lose health coverage by the end of this decade if Cassidy’s bill becomes law.