The New York Times takes a look into the storm of controversy over the Frost family in the S-CHIP debate. David Herszenhorn gives a fairly balanced view of the nine-day wonder that the Frosts became, and settles some of the factual disputes that has plagued the sideshow:
There have been moments when the fight between Congressional Democrats and President Bush over the State Children’s Health Insurance Program seemed to devolve into a shouting match about who loves children more.
So when Democrats enlisted 12-year-old Graeme Frost, who along with a younger sister relied on the program for treatment of severe brain injuries suffered in a car crash, to give the response to Mr. Bush’s weekly radio address on Sept. 29, Republican opponents quickly accused them of exploiting the boy to score political points.
Then, they wasted little time in going after him to score their own.
In recent days, Graeme and his family have been attacked by conservative bloggers and other critics of the Democrats’ plan to expand the insurance program, known as S-chip. They scrutinized the family’s income and assets — even alleged the counters in their kitchen to be granite — and declared that the Frosts did not seem needy enough for government benefits.
But what on the surface appears to be yet another partisan feud, all the nastier because a child is at the center of it, actually cuts to the most substantive debate around S-chip. Democrats say it is crucially needed to help the working poor — Medicaid already helps the impoverished — but many Republicans say it now helps too many people with the means to help themselves.
That last assertion is false. Most Republicans supported the modest expansion of S-CHIP that the White House originally proposed. No Republican officeholders have, to my knowledge, proposed eliminating S-CHIP or scaling it back in any way. The GOP has argued that the expansion of the program to 400% of the poverty line would damage private health coverage and create a subsidy for families that can afford to make the choice for health coverage already.
The Frosts, the family at the center of the storm, came to personify the issue because Democrats had them use themselves as an argument for the expansion of the program. This turns out to be rather dishonest, because the Frosts qualified for S-CHIP without the expansion, as Herszenhorn reports. Their income levels fell below the existing 200% qualifying range for S-CHIP and they have used the program -- as they would have been able to continue to do so with the White House proposal.
That didn't stop the Democrats from demagoguing the debate by using the 12-year-old boy to make their political argument for them, then screaming about how heartless it was for Republicans to question the Frost's qualifications for government assistance. Like it or not, means testing is part of S-CHIP; in fact, it's the entire debate. That puts questions like assets, real income, and personal choices on the table. It's rather strange to consider someone who owns over $200,000 in home equity (not $400,000 as reported before) and commercial real estate as someone in need of government assistance. It's doubly strange when the children of the family attend private schools, even on scholarship. That calls into question whether the family has made choices to be without health coverage, or really have no resources to get it for themselves.
However, the response on the Right sometimes outstripped reason. Rather than just argue the facts, some in the comments section here and elsewhere went too far in speculating about finances and motives of the Frost family. Certainly, their argument was fair game, as well as their claim on federal assistance, which is after all public money. The S-CHIP debate doesn't just focus on the Frosts, though (and we find out that the expansion argument wasn't even relevant to them). We have plenty of reasons to oppose the S-CHIP expansion that have little to do with the Frosts, and we should be focusing on policy, not personal anecdotes.
The Frosts volunteered to serve as the poster family for this debate, but they have been exploited by partisans on both sides of the argument. The Frosts will have S-CHIP regardless of whether the veto gets upheld or not. Let's leave the Frosts alone and get back to the real policy debate -- and ask ourselves why we're taking $30 billion from poor and working-class Americans to subsidize health care for people better off than they are, for "children" in their twenties, and for people whose choices are not our responsibility.
Thanks to my friend and political opponent (that is not a contradiction) Shaun Mullen for provoking me to write on this topic today.
UPDATE: Regarding S-CHIP policy and its supposed expansion for the "children", it might be instructive to see how many people get covered as adults in the program now. At Heading Right, I look at states that spend more than 40% of their S-CHIP grants on adults under the current program.
UPDATE II: Bruce Kesler checks into S-CHIP eligibility and discovers that he qualifies -- and then explains why that's not a good thing. Rick Moran questions the charges of "smearing" that the Left has volleyed for over a week.
UPDATE III: When the Left gets their facts wrong, we don't seem to hear the same amount of squealing, I notice.