Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), the target of a vicious monologue from late-night host Jimmy Kimmel over his Obamacare repeal bill, sought to wave away the criticisms by claiming that his health care plan would lead to more people having insurance — while providing the same protections for people with preexisting conditions that Obamacare does.
“I’m sorry, he does not understand,” Cassidy told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “More people will have coverage, and we protect those with preexisting conditions.”
The only trouble is: Neither of those things seems to be true, according to health policy experts.
Cassidy and Kimmel had become strange allies in the Republican health care debate earlier this year, when they agreed on something that’s become known as the Jimmy Kimmel test. Kimmel defined the test this way: “No family should be denied medical care, emergency or otherwise, because they can't afford it.”
On Tuesday night, as Senate leaders and the White House sought to build momentum for Cassidy’s new health care bill, Kimmel blasted Cassidy for violating that pledge and his own standards for what a health care bill should achieve.
“This guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face,” he said.
Among Cassidy’s most grievous sins, according to Kimmel, were promising to cover more people and protecting people with high medical costs. His health care plan would do neither, the host said.
Cassidy argued on Wednesday morning that, in fact, his health care bill would achieve both those goals. But that doesn’t appear to be true.
The Congressional Budget Office hasn’t released an official tally on what Cassidy’s legislation would mean for coverage numbers, and it might not be able to before the Senate puts the bill up for a vote next week. But preliminary analysis from outside groups has indicated that tens of millions fewer people would likely have health insurance.
Experts have laid out a simple truth: The bill would significantly cut federal funding — by $215 billion over the next 10 years, compared with Obamacare, per a new report — and that would inevitably lead to fewer people having coverage.
“The ballgame here is the money,” Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told me recently. “If states have a lot less money to play with than under the current system, it's inevitable that fewer people will be covered.”
As for people with preexisting conditions, Cassidy claimed that with this bill, “the protection is absolutely the same.” Obamacare had prohibited insurers from pricing premiums based on a person’s preexisting conditions.
But under Cassidy’s legislation, health insurers would be allowed, if their state permits it, to charge people higher premiums because of their medical history.
The bill does say that any states seeking to waive that regulation must explain "how the state intends to maintain adequate and affordable health insurance coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions."
But as Vox’s Sarah Kliff documented, experts are dubious about how strong that requirement really is and whether it actually provides the same level of protection that Obamacare does.
"You could stretch the definition pretty broadly of what counts," Chris Sloan, who is following the bill for Avalere Health, an independent consulting firm, said. "Maybe you fund a high-risk pool that only allows in some number of people, and that counts. It's a pretty wide space."