We treated Jimmy Kimmel's son — kids like his will suffer under GOP health bill
This Op-Ed was first published in The Hill on 5/9/17.
Like many of you, I watched late night host Jimmy Kimmel share with the world a deeply personal account of how his son, just a few days old, required lifesaving surgery for a genetic heart defect. I ached when I saw the tears he tried to hold back. I cracked a smile whenever he did, especially when he beamed as he told his audience that Billy Kimmel was home, six days after open heart surgery.
The Kimmel family came to our hospital as unwilling participants in one of the scariest ordeals a parent can ever experience — a child's unexplained medical emergency. Every parent knows the feelings that come with this: Uncertainty. Anxiety. Self-doubt. Fear. No matter how confident you are in the skill and credentials of those treating your infant child, you will always worry that your baby is not going to make it out of the operating room.
Billy's condition, Tetralogy of Fallot, is a rare condition, but one with which the Heart Institute at Children's Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) has abundant expertise in treating. In the hands of renowned pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons and cardiology experts, and through Billy's own resilience, he is able to be home with his family today
Mr. Kimmel's representatives had given us a heads-up that he wanted to talk about his child’s medical condition on his show on Monday night, so we were expecting that. What we didn't expect was that Mr. Kimmel would round out the story of his family’s healthcare experience by sending a strong message that Billy’s pre-existing condition might not be covered by proposed legislation making its way through Congress.
In so doing, Mr. Kimmel delivered a powerful statement about the children who stand to be severely impacted by changes to the Medicaid program through the adoption of the American Health Care Act (AHCA).
Vulnerable children need a voice now more than ever. Now that the House of Representatives has passed AHCA, the Senate will begin debating these changes to healthcare legislation that will jeopardize children who are reliant on federal and state funding to cover their care. Traditionally, the Senate has shown bipartisan support for protecting children, and we hope our lawmakers rally around Jimmy’s heartfelt words so that children are not left out of the conversations on Capitol Hill.
At Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, we will join the debate because these changes can and will impact the children who make up our hospital’s more than 528,000 visits each year.
We wholeheartedly thank the Kimmel family and the community at large for the support and attention they have brought our hospital since his announcement, but just as Mr. Kimmel points out, this discussion transcends the needs of just one hospital and one patient family.
This is about the broader issue of preserving compassionate, high-quality care for all children. Every team member at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, including those who helped save the life of young Billy Kimmel, is acutely aware that the AHCA threatens to reduce access to health services for more than 30 million children. This includes children who are dependent on Medicaid for important preventive services and care for acute and chronic conditions.
The current Medicaid program ensures that millions of young patients with complex needs across the country have access to age-specific health benefits through the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment Program. Important safeguards like these are being threatened and, in sharing his own hospital experience, Mr. Kimmel gave those patients a voice.
"I saw a lot of families there," Mr. Kimmel said. "No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child's life."
At CHLA, we know the impact of healthcare legislative changes firsthand. We provide all patients with the same medical care regardless of their family’s financial status. Our hospital offers 350 programs and services designed to help not just our patients but their entire families, from diagnosis through recovery. Changes proposed to Medicaid would have a substantial, adverse impact on our ability to do so by threatening the healthcare coverage of nearly 70 percent of our patient population, those covered by California's Medi-Cal program.
Again, we are not the only ones. At this time, nearly 50 percent of newborns in the U.S. are insured by the Medicaid program, which assures them affordable access to lifesaving care. The $800 billion in cuts proposed in the American Health Care Act (AHCA) threaten this access for sick children, their families and our nation.
Any reform under consideration by our nation’s leaders must protect coverage for children and ensure adequate funding for the programs that keep kids healthy.
Mr. Kimmel said his son will need at least two more surgeries in his lifetime. It is not uncommon for pediatric patients with serious conditions to require multiple procedures and a long-term plan of care. In fact, many of the more than 1,000 open heart surgeries CHLA surgeons perform each year are on children who have been in the operating room before.
Pre-existing heart conditions such as Tetralogy of Fallot require lifelong medical attention that can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses. Whenever possible, we work with families to help them access coverage through Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the safety net that has been put in place to assure children can access the life-saving care they need. As we look forward, preserving these programs reduces the likelihood that families would be put in such tough positions.
Mr. Kimmel also discussed the need to protect the National Institutes of Health (NIH) because lifesaving techniques and therapies like those that helped Billy are developed through federally-funded research studies. Strong funding for the NIH ensures researchers across the country can continue their vital work crafting and fine-tuning new treatments for heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other conditions that continue to impact children’s lives.
We join Mr. Kimmel in our sincere hope that you never have to go through what his family experienced last week. But if you do, every one of us at CHLA — and at children’s hospitals across the country — is dedicated to giving the child in your life the love and care we would give our own children.
Please help us ensure that every child who needs healthcare has a voice in the U.S. Senate and that our senators place the medical needs of children at the top of the federal agenda. Children may not have the ability to vote or to petition their Senators on Capitol Hill but we do and we hope you will join us.
Paul S. Viviano is the president and CEO of Children's Hospital Los Angeles.