Obama’s health-insurance story unraveling a bit?

posted at 10:05 am on July 12, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Byron York did some digging into one of Barack Obama’s oft-told anecdotes about health insurers — and discovers that the facts differ significantly from Obama’s version.  Obama explained his passion for health-insurance reform during the presidential campaign as a product of the fight his mother endured to get coverage for her eventually-fatal illness, uterine and ovarian cancer:

“I remember in the last month of her life, she wasn’t thinking about how to get well, she wasn’t thinking about coming to terms with her own mortality, she was thinking about whether or not insurance was going to cover the medical bills and whether our family would be bankrupt as a consequence,” Obama said in September 2007.

“She was in her hospital room looking at insurance forms because the insurance company said that maybe she had a pre-existing condition and maybe they wouldn’t have to reimburse her for her medical bills,” Obama added in January 2008.

“The insurance companies were saying, ‘Maybe there’s a pre-existing condition and we don’t have to pay your medical bills,’ ” Obama said in a debate with Republican opponent Sen. John McCain in October 2008.

True story, or fabrication?  As with most personal anecdotes turned into political arguments, it’s a little of both, according to York and a recently published biography of Obama’s mother.  Ann Dunham did fight with an insurer to cover medical costs in the last months of her life, a battle that Obama himself waged on her behalf.  However, the policy in question was not for health insurance, but for disability coverage that Dunham wanted to cover her deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses — which, to be fair, were not insignificant.  Dunham took a job in 1994 with Development Alternatives, which provided her with health insurance, and dispatched her to Jakarta to work with an Indonesian ministry focused on women’s issues.  She began to suffer severe abdominal pain, which an appendectomy did not cure, and worried that she had something much worse.  Dunham went back to Hawaii in 1995, where the proper diagnosis was made.

According to Dunham biographer Janny Scott, a New York Times reporter, Dunham’s health insurance covered her illness without question:

That is the time during which Obama says his mother battled insurance companies to cover her illness. But Scott, who had access to Dunham’s correspondence from the time, reveals that Dunham unquestionably had health coverage. “Ann’s compensation for her job in Jakarta had included health insurance, which covered most of the costs of her medical treatment,” Scott writes. “Once she was back in Hawaii, the hospital billed her insurance company directly, leaving Ann to pay only the deductible and any uncovered expenses, which, she said, came to several hundred dollars a month.”

Scott writes that Dunham, who wanted to be compensated for those costs as well as for her living expenses, “filed a separate claim under her employer’s disability insurance policy.” It was that claim, with the insurance company CIGNA, that was denied in August 1995 because, CIGNA investigators said, Dunham’s condition was known before she was covered by the policy.

Dunham protested the decision and, Scott writes, “informed CIGNA that she was turning over the case to ‘my son and attorney, Barack Obama.’ ” CIGNA did not budge.

In September 1995, Dunham traveled to New York for an evaluation at the renowned Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Returning to Hawaii, she began a new course of treatment. She died in November.

Dunham’s death was tragic, of course, and Obama might have a valid reason to be angry at CIGNA for refusing to cover some of the expenses.  But if Scott gets the story right, then Dunham’s health insurer actually did meet its obligations to cover the portion of Dunham’s bills for which it was liable.  She didn’t face the prospect of paying the entirety of her bills without coverage, but the portion that her insurer wouldn’t have covered anyway — without the ability to earn a paycheck, which would have been daunting enough.

The anecdote in its actual form would make a good case for someone who wanted to reform disability coverage.  It looks like Obama exercised some significant poetic license into an argument that health insurers are evil corporations that need government control in order to fulfill their contracts.

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Comment pages: 1 2

So Obama lied about what happened?

BTW, here’s what Wikipedia has Obama doing in the same period that his mother was fretting about money-

In 1991, Obama accepted a two-year position as Visiting Law and Government Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School to work on his first book.[35][36] He then served as a professor at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years—as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996, and as a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004—teaching constitutional law.[37]

From April to October 1992, Obama directed Illinois’s Project Vote, a voter registration drive with ten staffers and seven hundred volunteer registrars; it achieved its goal of registering 150,000 of 400,000 unregistered African Americans in the state, and led to Crain’s Chicago Business naming Obama to its 1993 list of “40 under Forty” powers to be.[38] In 1993 he joined Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, a 13-attorney law firm specializing in civil rights litigation and neighborhood economic development, where he was an associate for three years from 1993 to 1996, then of counsel from 1996 to 2004, with his law license becoming inactive in 2002.[39]

From 1994 to 2002, Obama served on the boards of directors of the Woods Fund of Chicago, which in 1985 had been the first foundation to fund the Developing Communities Project, and of the Joyce Foundation.

In short- he was a lecturer at the University of Chicago, an associate lawyer at a legal firm and on the board of directors of the Woods Fund. He couldn’t pay his mother’s bills for her as she was dying from cancer? He actually said in ad that his mother was “heartbroken” over the struggle with money at the end of her life- and her lawyer, lecturer, board of directors son wasn’t picking up the tab?

Jay Mac on July 12, 2011 at 1:13 PM

the facts differ significantly from Obama’s version.

Gee, that never happens.

dogsoldier on July 12, 2011 at 1:38 PM

…Here’s an idea: Maybe, her son could have covered those expenses or her?

Blake on July 12, 2011 at 10:19 AM

And the same guy could pay for his illegal alien auntie’s room and board instead of us taxpayers.

But he doesn’t.

fred5678 on July 12, 2011 at 1:47 PM

Obama’s health-insurance story unraveling a bit?

(Removed superfluous qualifiers from headline)

landlines on July 12, 2011 at 2:11 PM

Its the size of a hippo, that head.

Greed on July 12, 2011 at 2:14 PM

No wonder they say hes cerebral. With a forehead like that id be waiting for him to make things float around.

He doesnt have a forehead, he has a fivehead.

Greed on July 12, 2011 at 2:51 PM

Either he lied on purpose or this explains a lot about how crap of an attorney Professor Obama is. Any decent attorney would know the difference between disability and health insurance, especially when the case involved his own mother.

On top of that–bankrupt? How can “a few hundred dollars a month” “bankrupt a family” with a Harvard educated lawyer who was teaching at the U. of Chicago and had just secured a $500,000 advance on a memoir (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreams_from_My_Father#Reception)?

There are 4 types of lies: Lies, damn lies, statistics and any statement made by Barack Obama.

DailyDanet on July 12, 2011 at 2:54 PM

And the same guy could pay for his illegal alien auntie’s room and board instead of us taxpayers.

But he doesn’t.

fred5678 on July 12, 2011 at 1:47 PM

Or Obama’s half brother living in an African hut on $12 a year. Millionaire Obama could almost double his brother’s standard of living by sending his $20, but no, that’s not for him to do.

RJL on July 12, 2011 at 3:12 PM

The anecdote in its actual form would make a good case for someone who wanted to reform disability coverage. It looks like Obama exercised some significant poetic license into an argument that health insurers are evil corporations that need government control in order to fulfill their contracts.

You mean he lied. When does he not lie?

Theophile on July 12, 2011 at 5:23 PM

It looks like Obama exercised some significant poetic license into an argument that health insurers are evil corporations that need government control in order to fulfill their contracts.

It looks like Obama lied.

See how easy it is to be concise?

tom on July 12, 2011 at 8:32 PM

Wow. This thread is pretty awful, even by HA standards.

crr6 on July 12, 2011 at 9:03 PM

52 years of spreading your legs for every high risk for sexual disease minority you bump into comes with some dire consequences.

Alden Pyle on July 12, 2011 at 10:18 PM

Comment pages: 1 2