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People Trust a Late-Night Talk Show Host More Than Republicans on Healthcare

Jimmy Kimmel has a 13-point polling advantage over Congress.

Jesse Hicks

Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images; Alex Wong/Getty Images

Jimmy Kimmel is a likeable guy, amiably low-key, the sort you'd want to welcome into your living room. That persona makes for a talented late-night host. Still, it's a little surprising that Kimmel's recent foray into healthcare punditry has made him, according to a new poll, more credible on the issue than the Republicans who are still pushing to repeal, replace, or otherwise alter the Affordable Care Act.

Public Policy Polling surveyed 865 registered voters by phone and online and found that 47 percent trust Kimmel more than Congressional Republicans on healthcare issues; just 34 percent trust Republicans more. It's not a very big poll, but it's still damning.

Kimmel also has a decent approval rating of 47 percent, with 30 percent disapproving. Compare that to Mitch McConnell, who just recently scotched a vote on the latest Republican stab at gutting the ACA. Just 14 percent of those polled approve of the job he's doing as Senate Majority Leader, with 61 percent disapproving. Paul Ryan, as Speaker of the House, is similarly underwater: 51 percent disapprove of the job he's doing, and only 25 percent approve. Congress's overall approval rating is a dismal 9 percent.

That may be because Congressional Republicans keep insisting on radical changes to Obamacare, while the Trump administration works to undermine it by cutting advertising as well as sign-up windows. Given a choice between repealing the law or keeping it and fixing what doesn't work, 62 percent of those polled chose the latter and only 32 percent wanted to repeal it. Meanwhile, 48 percent said a vote in favor of the latest Republican plan would make them less likely to support their Congressperson in the next election.

In other words, when Kimmel ripped the last-ditch attempt to repeal Obamacare, he was firmly in the mainstream. In case you've forgotten over the roller-coaster of the last half-year, Kimmel gave an emotional monologue in May describing how his newborn son, Billy, had received three open-heart surgeries. "If your parents didn't have medical insurance, you might not live long enough to even get denied because of a pre-existing condition," he said at the time.

That caught the attention of Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, who went on Kimmel's show to talk healthcare. In numerous interviews Cassidy committed to the "Jimmy Kimmel test," saying he'd only support bills that protected people with pre-existing conditions and retained Obamacare's ban on lifetime limits for insurance payouts.

After multiple Republican bills spectacularly fizzled out this summer, Cassidy teamed up with South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, not known as a health policy wonk, to give it one more try. Their bill would have ended the Medicaid expansion, raised premiums, and let states charge sick people more, with the option to cut Obamacare-mandated essential health benefits. Vox Sarah Kliff, a reporter who'd covered the Republican replacement attempts, called it "the most radical," saying, it blows up the law entirely."

On his September 19 show, Kimmel called Cassidy to account. "Not only did Bill Cassidy fail 'the Jimmy Kimmel test,' he failed the Bill Cassidy test, he failed his own test," he said, saying the new bill was worse than any of the previous attempts. He pointed out that, for one, if it became law, states could let insurance companies charge people more if they have preexisting conditions. Sure they can't deny people, but they can make it so their insurance isn't affordable. Cassidy fired back on CNN the next morning, suggesting Kimmel hadn't done his homework. "I'm sorry he does not understand," he said. "Under Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson, more people will have coverage, and we protect those with pre-existing conditions."

But—and this may have something to do with more people trusting him than they do Republicans on healthcare—Kimmel was right. The bill couldn't guarantee any protections for pre-existing conditions, as it essentially left states to set up their own healthcare systems. ("Instead of having a one-size-fits-all solution from Washington, we should return dollars back to the states to address each individual state's health care needs," Graham said.)

Fact-checkers from the New York Times and Washington Post generally sided with Kimmel, though the Times dinged him for overstating the commitment Cassidy had offered while on Kimmel's show. Cassidy, the Times said, had never explicitly, on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, promised to protect people with pre-existing conditions or prohibit lifetime or annual payout caps. Cassidy, of course, hadn't denied he'd made any promise; he said "we protect those with pre-existing conditions."

These are strange times we live in, with a politician promising—or not—specific policy outcomes to a late-night talk show host and then getting reamed for not following through. But apparently when it comes to choosing sides—the talk show host or the politician—Americans trust Jimmy Kimmel. Because, after all, he was right.

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