SCHIP, Graeme Frost, and Economic Racism

When we get past the smokescreens that the GOP leadership (and their online enablers) have been spewing about the SCHIP bill, and we look behind the attacks on Graeme Frost’s family, there’s an even slimier underbelly. Why would the GOP leadership be propagating false talking points about the Frosts and the SCHIP bill? The answer might (or might not) surprise you.

Commentary By: Richard Blair

As I perused some of the comments to my previous post on Graeme Frost and the SCHIP controversy, it occured to me that the real reason the nutosphere has its collective kickers in knot about Graeme Frost and the SCHIP bill has nothing to do with the fact that Graeme and his sister benefited from the Maryland version of the program. Nope. It’s partly because the Frost family isn’t perceived as poor and destitute.

There is an overriding perception, propagated by a lazy legacy media (and the GOP’s online enablers) that state-level CHIP programs are targeted toward the poorest of American families. As the table below shows (from the National Council of State Legislatures), this perception simply isn’t true:

Medicaid / SCHIP Comparison

Category Medicaid SCHIP
Covered Groups
  • Low-income children
  • Low-income parents and pregnant women
  • Low-income children and adults with disabilities
  • Low-income elderly
  • Targeted low-income children with incomes above Medicaid eligibility levels who do not have private health insurance
  • “Unborn children”
  • Some parents and other adults through waivers, although the option to cover childless adults was removed in the 2005 DRA
Number of Enrollees
  • 28 million children
  • 4.4 million children
    Funding
    • Open-ended entitlement
    • Enrollment caps prohibited
    • Entitlement to states, not individuals
    • The annual funding level is set by statute and is based on the number of low-income children and low-income uninsured children in the state; it includes a cost factor that represents the average health service industry wages in the state compared to the national average
    Match Rate
    • Federal match rates in Medicaid range from 50 percent to 76 percent
    • States receive an enhanced match for SCHIP. Rates range from 65 percent to 83.2 percent
    Scope of Coverage
    • Comprehensive range of federally defined benefits, including EPSTD, dental, mental health, prevention or EPSTD wrap-around coverage for states opting to provide benchmark coverage
    • States have flexibility in defining plans, although all benchmark plans must include basic benefits, as defined in statute
    • This flexibility applies to separate SCHIP programs, not to Medicaid expansion programs

    Leaving aside the fact that the perception of whom SCHIP does and doesn’t cover is largely misconstrued, the manufactured attacks against the Frost family, a product of Republican leadership talking points, are largely a smokescreen for economic racism.

    The talking points are aimed at a certain caste in this country that believes that the poor should be exterminated (after being born, of course). And ultimately, that’s what it comes down to.

    Who comprises this caste? The same people who will vote continuously for the Republican Party, totally contrary to their own personal and economic interests. I’m not talking about the uber rich, the fairly well off, or the worker bees who have their healthcare needs partly met by a union or other workplace policy. I’m talking about a certain sect of the lower-middle income class, who are motivated not by their own economic interests, but by the inherent racism and classism of God, guns, and gays.

    Many of these people don’t have two nickels to rub together at the end of the day. Yet they work their fingers to the bone at multiple low paying jobs to put bread on the table, and proudly proclaim, “I take care of my own.” They pay their taxes, but can’t afford to get their teeth cleaned. And because they believe that they can’t afford to get their teeth cleaned, or they don’t have the wherewithal to seek out programs that could help them, they believe that the programs don’t exist for them, but rather for the bum they see hanging out on the street corner. They believe the bums secretly drive Caddys, live in expensive condos on government assistance (and taxpayer expense), and get gold-plated healthcare. They believe that anyone who doesn’t “take care of their own” is a less-than-adequate parent.

    In other words, they hate the poor.

    Here’s my non-psychologist’s evaluation of why: the people who populate this particular social caste are, for the most part, one step away from destitution themselves. They don’t care to understand that programs like CHIP are meant to fill a very real gap between marginal healthcare for the poor (Medicaid), and the total unavailability of healthcare in a higher economic range (in which the Frost’s fit quite well). They’d rather walk around with dirty teeth and not make a doctor’s visit until the need is acute, and they end up in an emergency room. They’d rather give up everything they’ve worked their fingers to the bone for in order to prove a point to themselves. They’d rather lose their home or end up in bankruptcy court to discharge onerous medical bills, rather than admit that programs such as CHIP, designed to help a certain middle class segment of the population, have a social worth.

    So, this little skirmish in the ongoing culture war isn’t about much of anything other than the worst kind of economic racism and classism. If CHIP programs were completely defunded today, these same folks would start going after Medicaid – or more correctly, the Malkin’s and Limbaugh’s would go after the program. Their screaming zombie contingents would simply follow along with pitchforks and torches.

    They hate the poor, and would be just as happy if they died (again, as long as they’ve already been born, anyway).

    But what fuels the elected GOP and conservative leadership to demonize such programs and the people who those programs serve, and thereby pander to the particular caste to which the talking points are directed? Medicaid. The NCSL table (above) helped me begin to understand that this entire bruhaha has absolutely nothing to do with SCHIP.

    28 million poverty level children are covered by Medicaid. 4.4 million lower middle-income children are covered by SCHIP programs. Medicaid is in crisis, and the ultimate costs literally dwarf those of SCHIP programs. No, dear reader, again, the Frost family isn’t being held up by the fringe right wing howler monkeys as poster children for a program that covers gaps in healthcare coverage. The Frosts are being used as an example to soften up the discourse, and make it an easier social pill to swallow when Grover Norquist’s of the country go after Medicaid. I think that’s the hidden agenda.

    To conservatives, poor people are like Iraqis – they’re subhuman; societal leeches to be removed at whatever cost, and regardless of the toll of the economic cluster bombs that get dropped on them daily. The SCHIP debate allows the “leech narrative” to be moved up a few rungs on the economic ladder. And why is this being done by the GOP controllers?

    The bottom line is that the wingers are scared to death to ever be caught in the same socio-economic bind as the Frosts, and are exhibiting false bravado as they whistle past the healthcare graveyard.

    Update: A couple of quick points.

    • In describing the right wing’s virtual fragging of the Frost family, I intentionally labeled the social phenomena that we’re witnessing as “economic racism”. I don’t think that the high concept of racism is limited to a particular skin shade, although that’s where the term is generally applied. And the strawman that those on right are using is no different than their dogwhistles on color, ethnicity, religion, or national origin.
    • Ezra Klien takes a similar position – and perhaps with even more righteous indignation than I could muster – on what is driving the right to demonize a prototypical American family. Under normal circumstances, the right wingers would be holding up the Frosts as prime examples of hard work having achieved the American dream. Klein’s talented wordsmithing is well worth the read.
    • Lastly, make sure you click on the comment link to this post. ASZ’s good friend Charles boils down my entire analysis into a few succinct paragraphs.

    Update II: Great article today in the Baltimore Sun regarding the Frosts. ASZ’s Philly contingent will particularly appreciate the picture of Halsey and Bonnie Frost sitting on the doorstep of their rowhouse.

    Tuesday, October 9th, 2007 by Richard Blair |

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