Obama's False Family Drama: Ann Dunham Was Not Denied Health Insurance Coverage During Life-Ending Illness

July 14th, 2011 10:31 PM

As Clay Waters at the Media Research Center's Times Watch reported earlier today ("One of Obama's Emotional Arguments for Obama-Care Proven Wrong in NYT Staffer's New Book"), the New York Times's Kevin Sack ran a story yesterday which "reflects badly on Barack Obama and how he misled people in his campaign for Obama-care."

I'll say. As reported by Sack (bolds are mine throughout this post):

Book Challenges Obama on Mother’s Deathbed Fight

During his presidential campaign and subsequent battle over a health care law, Mr. Obama quieted crowds with the story of his mother’s fight with her insurer over whether her cancer was a pre-existing condition that disqualified her from coverage.

In offering the story as an argument for ending pre-existing condition exclusions by health insurers, the president left the clear impression that his mother’s fight was over health benefits for medical expenses.

But in “A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother,” author Janny Scott quotes from correspondence from the president’s mother to assert that the 1995 dispute concerned a Cigna disability insurance policy and that her actual health insurer had apparently reimbursed most of her medical expenses without argument.

Ms. Scott took a leave from her job as a reporter for The New York Times to write the book and has not returned to the staff.

... “We have not reviewed the letters or other material on which the author bases her account,” said Nicholas Papas, the (White House) spokesman. “The president has told this story based on his recollection of events that took place more than 15 years ago.”

... “As Ms. Scott’s account makes clear, the president’s mother incurred several hundred dollars in monthly uncovered medical expenses that she was relying on insurance to pay,” Mr. Papas said. “She first could not get a response from the insurance company, then was refused coverage. This personal history of the president’s speaks powerfully to the impact of pre-existing condition limits on insurance protection from health care costs.”

Disability insurance, which primarily replaces wages lost to illness, was never at issue in the legislative debate over the Affordable Care Act.

... According to Ms. Scott’s book, Ms. (Ann) Dunham’s problem with Cigna started after she left Jakarta, Indonesia, where she had recently taken a consulting job with an American firm, and returned to Honolulu for treatment of abdominal pain that had been diagnosed as appendicitis. After being told she had uterine and ovarian cancer, she underwent a hysterectomy in February 1995 and then six months of chemotherapy, according to the book.

The Cigna disability policy, according to Ms. Scott, allowed the company to deny a claim if a patient had seen a doctor about the condition that caused the disability in the three months before employment.

Seriously now, in the sixth excerpted paragraph Mr. Papas seems to be making a case that one should be able to qualify not just for health insurance coverage but also disability insurance coverage (which, by the way, is meant to cover lost income and living expenses while disabled, and is not specifically designed to cover medical expenses) even if at the time you apply for it you already have a disabling condition. Next up: Auto insurance people can buy after they're in a crash.

The Times's Sack left an important additional contradiction in Barack Obama's narrative out of his coverage. While Sack notes that Ms. Dunham "had recently taken a consulting job with an American firm," that is not how Barack Obama described her situation at the February 2010 Healthcare summit just one month before the final House vote in which Obamacare passed. Specifically, as Christopher Santarelli reported at the Blaze on Tuesday afternoon (video is at the link; bold is mine):

Barack Obama at the February 2010 Healthcare summit (said): "My Mother, who was self-employed, didn’t have reliable healthcare, and she died of ovarian cancer. There probably is nothing modern medicine could have done about that, it was caught late and thats a hard cancer to diagnose. I do remember the last six months of her life, insurance companies threatening that they would not reimburse her for her costs. And her having to be on the phone in the hospital argueing with insurance companies when what she should have been doing is spending time with her family."

Scott’s investigation however shows that in 1994 Dunham took a job with an American company called Development Alternatives, which had a contract with the Indonesian State Ministry for the Role of Women. Dunham returned to Jakarta to work where Scott reports the job provided Dunham with health insurance, a housing allowance, and a car.

Even though it punches a hole a mile wide in the President's personal narrative justifying the passage of Obamacare, I don't hold out much hope for seeing what Sack reported at the Times or Santarelli's addendum elsewhere beyond the usual burial grounds at ABC's Political Punch and the Politico, where stories the establishment press would rather not widely distribute seem to go and die. The Times itself carried Sack's story on Page A16 of Thursday's print edition. A search on "Dunham" at the Associated Press's main site just before 10 p.m. returned nothing relevant. If anyone sees this mentioned at the Big Three networks, let me know.

This morning, Ann Althouse was a bit more blunt about all of this in her headline and brief commentary:

Obama lied about a central fact about his own life which he used — powerfully — to push health care reform.

... "Lied" is my paraphrasing. The NYT wrote "mischaracterized."

Meanwhile, I recall a (discredited) attempt to discredit President George W. Bush's Texas Air National Guard Service -- which was never used by Bush to prop up a public policy initiative -- getting wall-to-wall press coverage in September 2004. No double standard there (/sarcasm).

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.