Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Insurance bill debate focuses on Frost family

from USA Today

By Richard Wolf, USA TODAY

A week before the House attempts to override President Bush's veto of children's health insurance legislation, the latest bone of contention is whether 12-year-old Graeme Frost should qualify for the program.

Yes, say Democrats, who had young Graeme deliver the response to Bush's weekly radio address 11 days ago. "I don't know why President Bush wants to stop kids who really need help from getting CHIP," he said, referring to the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

No, say conservative bloggers, who began circulating information Saturday about the Frost family's remodeled home, private schools and commercial rental property. "The not-so-poor 12-year-old who rebutted Bush on S-CHIP veto," headlined Free Republic, the first of many blogs to question Graeme's story.

Bush and Democrats have argued for months about who should qualify for the program, created in 1997 to provide coverage for low-income children whose families make too much to qualify for Medicaid. Suddenly, the Frosts became the poster family for each side.

The family had to deal with hospital bills that followed a car accident in 2004 in which Graeme and his sister Gemma, now 9, were severely injured.

Bloggers showed a photo of the couple's glass-front cabinets and 1992 wedding announcement in The New York Times. Democrats "filled this kid's head with lies," Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show.

The blogs were "pretty insulting stuff, and really just low," Halsey Frost, Graeme's father, said Tuesday.

Bloggers said the house was worth more than $400,000. It turns out it was bought for $55,000 in 1991 in a Baltimore neighborhood where "there were drug dealers and prostitutes on our street," Bonnie Frost said. Halsey Frost, a woodworker, did most of the renovations, which are "still not done," Bonnie said.

Bloggers said Graeme and Gemma go to private Park School, where tuition costs about $20,000. Graeme gets a scholarship, while Gemma's brain injuries were so severe that the city pays to educate her at a school for children with disabilities, the couple say.

The commercial property, which bloggers noted was bought for $160,000 in 1999, was intended to house Frostworks, Halsey's business. It folded soon after, he said — partly because of the cost of health insurance.

He has worked for small companies and is trying to restart his own business. She works part time for a consulting firm. The couple — who have four children in all —earned about $45,000 last year, well below the $55,220 limit for a family of six set under the original SCHIP program. Maryland's program goes higher, to nearly $83,000 for a family of six. "We are struggling," Bonnie Frost said. "We live paycheck to paycheck. "

Bloggers who helped circulate financial information about the family over the weekend backed off a bit Tuesday. "It's the difference between Google and journalism," said Rick Moran, who penned a piece for The American Thinker. "It's been proven that the family was means-eligible." His editor, Thomas Lifson, said, "It's just more complicated than might have appeared in the first round of investigation."

Both said the Frosts became fair game by putting their family in the political arena. They questioned Democrats' decision to use a 12-year-old as their spokesman. "It just smacked me as being unfair," Moran said. "You cannot criticize the program without being accused of going after the boy."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused bloggers of that Tuesday. "The attack on this family is just breaking new ground and stooping to new lows," she said.

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