Who's Afraid of Sick Kids?

When is a twelve-year-old boy with brain damage a threat? When he exemplifies the good a government program can do when it provides health security to middle-class Americans.

Graeme Frost is such a boy, and his existence challenges the notion that health care is a privilege only the wealthy deserve. That's why conservatives are afraid of this little boy.

Conservatives want the popular and successful State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to fail. They fear that if the government helps sick children, more people will start to believe it can ensure health security for everyone. Here's a newsflash: government can ensure health security for everyone. Governments do exactly that in every other wealthy nation in the world. We just have the bizarre misfortune of living in a country where profit-motives stand in the way of adequate care. (The Rockridge Institute will soon launch its Health Care Security Campaign to thoroughly explore these issues, and you can sign up to be notified when it begins.)

You can see the conservative argument clearly in the way they attack young Graeme Frost. In its essence, it is this:

Health care is a privilege that must be earned. If you earn enough to provide for your family but are denied insurance, you must give up all comfort and security to pay for medical treatment. Sell your house. Let insurance companies snatch your savings. Only when you are destitute will it be appropriate for our government to help.

This is how it is presented on the website of conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, the most prominent flame thrower on this issue:

"But Mark Tapscott's point remains: [P]eople make choices and it's clear the Frost's have made the choice to invest in property and a business, but not in private health insurance. The Maryland-administered version of the federal SCHIP program, by the way, does not impose an asset test on applicants."

There is great practical irony in the conservative position. People of modest means must choose between "investing" in either health care or a home and business. In their world, the parent who goes for a home and business (which provide the child with those other things you need to live like food and shelter) over health care and then goes bankrupt when their child gets sick deserves it because they are bad parents for not providing the health care. The idea that a family should be shackled to an insurance premium instead of being able to better their lives by buying their own home and starting a business is perfectly ok to them.

As a progressive, I believe government can and should provide both protection and security to its people. Programs that work should be encouraged. Especially when they are for those among us who are least able and most in need. We have an obligation to care for sick children.

Besides, the alternative is unacceptable. My colleague at the Rockridge Institute, Glenn W. Smith, pointed out the moral bankruptcy of refusing children the care they need. He asked those who voted against SCHIP:

"What exactly would you say to that schoolroom of children? How could you explain to them that they will have to bear the illnesses and the deaths of their friends without your help or the help of millions of Americans who are willing to help but who you keep at bay by starving SCHIP?"

Will the success of SCHIP embolden us to push for greater health security for all? I hope so.

--Joe Brewer, the Rockridge Institute