Friday, October 12, 2007

"My Family Does Not Deserve This Retribution"

That is Halsey Frost, talking about the meat grinder his family has been put through for the past several days by jackal bloggers on the far right. Karen Tumulty lays it out in the current issue of Time magazine:

If you listen closely to the two-minute radio address that 12-year-old Graeme Frost delivered last week for the Democrats, you can hear the lingering effects of the 2004 car crash that put him into a coma for a week and left one of his vocal cords paralyzed. "Most kids my age probably haven't heard of CHIP, the Children's Health Insurance Program," he says in a voice that sounds weak and stressed. "But I know all about it, because if it weren't for CHIP, I might not be here today."

Graeme, whose sister suffered worse brain injuries when their family SUV hit a patch of black ice, was making an appeal for President Bush to reconsider his veto of legislation that would have expanded the program designed to provide health coverage to children of the working poor — those who are too rich to qualify for Medicaid but unable to afford private insurance.

Since then, Frost and his family have been introduced firsthand to something else that most kids his age haven't: the reality of how brutal partisan politics can be in the Internet age. It started over the weekend, when a blogger calling himself Icwhatudo put up a post on the conservative website Freerepublic.com noting what he had found by scavenging around the Internet: that Graeme attends a private school, lives in a remodeled house near one that had sold for $485,000 in March and is the child of parents whose wedding was announced in the New York Times. The post also noted that his father purchased a $160,000 commercial space in 1999.

"One has to wonder that if time and money can be found to remodel a home, send kids to exclusive private schools, purchase commercial property and run your own business... maybe money can be found for other things," the blogger wrote. "Maybe Dad should drop his woodworking hobby and get a real job that offers health insurance rather than making people like me (also with 4 kids in a 600sf smaller house and tuition $16,000 less per kid and no commercial property ownership) pay for it in my taxes."

That was just the beginning of what turned into a Category 5 hurricane on the blogosphere. Typical of the tone was what Mark Steyn wrote on National Review Online: "Bad things happen to good people, and they cause financial problems and tough choices. But, if this is the face of the 'needy' in America, then no one is not needy." Nameless commenters to conservative blogs were even harsher. "Let 'em twist in the wind and be eaten by ravens," wrote one one on Redstate.com, who was quoted in the Baltimore Sun. "Then maybe the bunch of socialist patsies will think twice."

It turns out, however, that not everything about the Frosts' life pops up on a Google search. While Graeme does attend a private school, he does so on scholarship. Halsey Frost is a self-employed woodworker; he and his wife say they earn between $45,000 and $50,000 a year to provide for their family of six. Their 1936 rowhouse was purchased in 1990 for $55,000. It was vacant and in a run-down neighborhood that has improved since then, in part because of people like themselves who took a chance. It is now assessed at $263,140, though under state law the value of that asset is not taken into account in determining their eligibility for SCHIP. And while they are still uninsured, they claim it is most certainly not by choice. Bonnie Frost says the last time she priced health coverage, she learned it would cost them $1,200 a month.

In short, just as the radio spot claimed, the Frosts are precisely the kind of people that the SCHIP program was intended to help.

While the family continues to support the vetoed bill that would expand the program to 4 million more children, they are hoping to remove themselves from the middle of the storm. After giving a few interviews, Halsey and Bonnie Frost now say they don't want to say anything more, though network camera crews have planted themselves in front of their house.

Halsey did have this to say in an e-mail to me:

"My son Graeme has helped put on a human face, that of a young boy, representing the needs of children and families across this nation. We are a hard working family that has stepped forward to support SCHIP. Mudslinging from the fringe has now been directed at the messenger. To be smeared all over the Internet and receive nasty e-mail — my family does not deserve this retribution. It is both shameful and pathetic.

"Driven by a most dubious agenda, shortsighted cut-and-paste bloggers, lacking all the facts, have made a feeble attempt at being crack reporters. This is an aberrant attempt to distract the American people from what the real issues are. Hard working American families need affordable health insurance.

"I find it morally reprehensible, and the act of a true coward, to publicly (world wide) smear a man and his family and not sign one's own real name to what they have written. I sign my name to what I write.

-Halsey Frost"

He also passed along a letter from a friend, Andrew Gray, who wrote: "Chances are, Bonnie, Halsey and their kids will survive this. The sad reality is that they've already been through much worse. But what does it say about us as a nation that we seek to destroy the reputations of those we should honor? Have we become so cynical and nasty that we no longer can recognize simple courage and decency?"

Politics has never been a gentle game. As far back as 1895, satirist Finley Peter Dunne's fictional saloonkeeper Martin Dooley observed that women, children and prohibitionists would do well to stay out of it, because "politics ain't beanbag." But surely, even Mr. Dooley could never have imagined a day would come when a mere seventh grader could be swift-boated.

Can you imagine how much hate and malice lives in the heart of someone who digs up a New York Times wedding announcement from 1992 and waves it triumphantly as evidence that the couple, over a decade later, can afford to pay for private health insurance? You would have to be fairly consumed with the desire to destroy if you're willing to make yourself look like that big a fool.

Something really is wrong with the Bush-worshipping wing of the Republican Party. Some essential part is missing, or broken. Others have said this, but I continue to be flabbergasted at the questions being asked of this poor, benighted family in Baltimore:

Why, in a full-employment economy, does someone who wants an employer to pay for health insurance not take a job with health insurance? Uhhhhh ... maybe because this is NOT a full-employment economy, in fact nowhere near it, and many jobs that are available do not offer health insurance, or make you wait up to a year to get it?

Why can't they afford health insurance if the private school tuition is paid for by scholarships and the state? Hmmm... let's think here .... well, maybe cause the reason scholarships and the state of Maryland are paying most of the tuition is because Graeme and Gemma Frost have medical problems related to a near-fatal car accident? Which, for purposes of health insurance, is a preexisting condition, and insurance companies don't provide coverage for preexisting conditions?

Why didn't they buy health insurance before the accident? How do you know they didn't try?

Why did they have children if they couldn't afford health insurance? Because they didn't know they were going to have millions of dollars in medical expenses as the result of a near-fatal car accident. And how do you know they didn't have health insurance before they had children, or didn't try to get health insurance when they had children? And why are you telling people who can afford to have children and want to have children that they should not have children because at some point in the future their circumstances might change drastically and they should base their decision not just on what they know in the moment, but on everything that is going to happen to them for the next 5o or 60 years?

Why doesn't one of them get a job with health insurance? Why don't you crack a good book once in a while -- one that will teach you a little humility and wisdom? I assure you it would be easier than finding a decent job that provides health insurance with coverage for preexisting conditions.

How come they can't afford health insurance in 2007 when their wedding announcement was in the New York Times in 1992? Yes, I know I mentioned this one already, but it's so awesomely stupid I had to repeat it. And one answer to this brain-teaser: How do you know they paid for the announcement themselves? Could one or both of the two sets of parents possibly have paid for the announcement? Or the bride-to-be's best friend? Or sister? I mean, I know how far-fetched such an idea is, but you know, it could have happened that way.

What I find so astonishing about these questions -- in addition to how presumptuous they all are, is the inherent assumption that the questions only have one possible answer, and that they imply guilt in and of themselves. After all, the Frosts are "middle class." That's what all the blather about "choices" comes down to. This family has plenty of money. They just made "bad choices," and now they have to pay the consequences. Setting aside the fact that the unaffordability of private health insurance (and the inadequacy and insecurity of employer-provided health insurance) affects millions of middle-class and working-class Americans -- a trend that is growing -- there is another insidious message here.

Digby is on to it:
As far as "choices" are concerned. Mark Steyn patiently explained once again today that parents of four children earning 45,000 dollars a year should just work harder and sell their house to pay for health insurance:
Mr Frost works "intermittently". The unemployment rate in the Baltimore metropolitan area is four-percent. Perhaps he chooses to work "intermittently," just as he chooses to send his children to private school, and chooses to live in a 3,000-square-foot home. That's what free-born citizens in democratic societies do: choose. Sometimes those choices work out, and sometimes they don't. And, when they don't and catastrophe ensues, it's appropriate that the state should provide a safety net. But it should be a safety net of last resort, and it's far from clear that it is in this case.

Setting aside the total dishonesty of that --- surely Steyn has been informed by now that the Frost kids go to private school on scholarship and the house was bought for 55,000 in 1990 --- what has become crystal clear in this debate is one that I think needs to be discussed. The Republicans believe that people should be completely destitute, living in a one room shack and working two jobs before they "deserve" subsidized health insurance. The middle class who are one car accident or one cancer diagnosis away from losing their jobs, being unable to afford either the cadillac COBRA plans from their employers (my last one here in California was $1700.00 a month and I'm healthy) must not be allowed to keep ANY assets.They must be, as Steyn's pal wrote, "dying on the streets with sores on their bodies" before they qualify for aid.

Digby makes another crucial point, which is that for all that the wingnuts are blaming the Frosts for not having their own private or employer-provided insurance policy, even if they had been able to afford such, it would not have kept them from financial ruin:
... Those kids spent five months in the hospital. The bills came to the millions of dollars and no middle class person, no matter what good "choices" they make, can afford to pick up the 20% or so they'd have to pay under an "affordable" health care policy when something like that happens. Medical bankruptcy happens every day, although our fabulous new bankruptcy laws make it far more difficult to get a fresh start than it used to be, even if you have a special needs kid and can't work full time.

And that's a recipe for economic disaster, if nothing is done to change it. But don't expect the lunatics on the right to see that. They've got their blinders glued to their faces. As far as they are concerned, if they don't pay for it with their taxes, they don't pay. Period.

1 comment:

Rick said...

I think people should be asking questions about the Frost family. The more I hear about this case, the more questions I have. Does the father work full time or not? The mother only works part-time, correct? Can they be described as the "working poor" if they don't in fact work full time?

My wife and I pay a lot for our medical insurance. More then we should. Do the Frosts pay *anything* for their medical? Not only do we pay high premiums, we get killed with the co-pays.

My wife and I both work full-time. I would love to work only part-time and I know my wife would too. The thing is, our responsibilities wont allow us to.