Obama fudging another health-care horror story?

Politicians love to trot out anecdotal stories when pushing for policy changes, and it’s even better when they can take examples from their own lives. Nowhere is that more easily done than on health-care reform. After all,everyone sees a doctor, and everyone at some point has to deal with serious or even catastrophic diagnoses, or with situations with the potential for that kind of diagnosis.  In her speech yesterday, Michelle Obama told a story to which every parent can relate — the moment that a child may have a severe illness that could kill them or damage them for life (via JammieWearingFool):


I will never forget the time eight years ago when Sasha was four months that she would not stop crying.  And she was not a crier, so we knew something was wrong.  So we fortunately were able to take her to our pediatrician that next morning.  He examined her and same something’s wrong.  We didn’t know what.  But he told us that she could have meningitis.  So we were terrified.  He said, get to the emergency room right away.

And fortunately for us, things worked out, because she is now the Sasha that we all know and love today — (laughter) — who is causing me great — excitement.  (Laughter.)

Things worked out because Sasha got immediate attention, and turned out not to have meningitis after all, as the New York Times reports (and as Mrs. Obama hints in the speech):

She cited instances where women were denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition – “like having a C-section, or having had a baby.”

“These are the kind of facts that still wake me up at night,” Mrs. Obama said.

In her speech, Mrs. Obama also told the story of how her daughter Sasha would not stop crying when she was 4 months old. A doctor’s visit revealed she might have meningitis; she ultimately did not, but the illness produced a scare.

Maybe someone should have told Mrs. Obama’s husband.  In a speech to nurses just eight days earlier, Barack Obama told the story quite a bit differently (emphasis mine):


When our youngest daughter, Sasha, was diagnosed with meningitis when she was just three months old, it was one of the scariest moments of my life.  And we had to have a spinal tap administered and she ended up being in the hospital for three or four days.  And it was touch and go, we didn’t know whether she’d be permanently affected by it.  It was the nurses who walked us through what was happening and made sure that Sasha was okay.

Well, she wasn’t diagnosed with meningitis, although the fright was real.  How hard is it to get the facts straight so that both Obamas tell the same story?  After all, it’s the fright, not the meningitis, that is the key part of the anecdote.  Moreover, why would Sasha’s father not know the difference?

Politicians hauling out their families to argue to illustrate their policy agenda is nothing new, but usually they get their facts straight first.  It’s quite reminiscent of Obama’s anecdote about Otto Raddatz in his speech to Congress just the day before this speech, in which he accused an insurance company of killing Raddatz by canceling his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy.  As Lynn Sweet reported, Raddatz had his coverage reinstated within weeks, never missed a chemotherapy session, and died more than four years later.

It’s bad enough to ignore the facts using someone else’s research.  It’s an indication of some serious incompetence to get one wrong about your own daughter, after both parents made her part of the health-care overhaul argument.


Update: AZCoyote has a good point in the comments:

What is the point of the story anyway? That other people couldn’t take their baby to the ER if they thought she had meningitis? Of course they could . . . and it wouldn’t matter if they had health insurance, or if they could pay the bill or not. The ER would have been required by federal law to examine and treat the baby.

If this is supposed to be an example of why we need universal coverage, it’s a spectacularly bad one.

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