Capturing the Middle Class
On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal editorial page fretted about the likely (hopefully inevitable) extension and expansion of SCHIP by Congress in the coming weeks. As was true of conservative criticism of the children’s health program in late 2007 when President Bush twice vetoed the measure, the editorial page yelped that the new bill raises eligibility for the program to 300% of the federal poverty level. This means that a household of four making up to $66,150 is eligible for the program (the WSJ uses the wrong poverty measure to calculate its number). This income is, as the Journal laments, above the U.S. median household income ($50,233), revealing that:
The political purpose behind Schip has always been to capture the middle class.
But the Journal has the purpose – political or not – of SCHIP backwards. Health insurance – and health insurance for one’s children – is part of what defines a middle-class standard of living, certainly more so than whether someone makes just above or just below $50,233. As employers drop health insurance coverage, as rising premiums make private insurance unaffordable, and as increasing unemployment swells the ranks of the uninsured, increases in the maximum income threshold for SCHIP coverage make sense to preserve the middle class and, in some cases, to help expand it.
Conservatives, along with the Journal editorial page, emphasize that SCHIP is a program “targeted at low-income families”. This is both true and valuable to point out. Indeed, 8% of children from families between 200% and 399% of the federal poverty line are uninsured, while 20% of those below 100% of the poverty line are. But increasing the maximum income threshold beyond the “low-income” level demonstrates that any health care program is as much about a right (to health care) that is an important component of a middle-class standard of living as it is about making an expensive commodity available to the poor. To wit, by May of 2008, 43 states and D.C. had already made children of families at 200% of poverty or higher eligible for SCHIP.