by Kevin Sack, New York Times
The White House on Wednesday declined to challenge an account in a new book that suggests that President Obama, in his campaign to overhaul American health care, mischaracterized a central anecdote about his mother’s deathbed dispute with her insurance company.
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….
During the 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama used several rhetorical formulations to relate the anecdote, stressing, in his words, that “this issue is personal for me.”
In his second debate with Senator John McCain of Arizona, in October 2008, he said: “For my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that.”
He put it similarly as president in a town-hall-style meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., in August 2009. “I will never forget my own mother, as she fought cancer in her final months, having to worry about whether her insurance would refuse to pay for her treatment,” Mr. Obama said….
After several months, Cigna denied the claim. Ms. Dunham then requested a review, writing to Cigna that she had turned the case over to “my son and attorney, Barack Obama,” Ms. Scott wrote.
Ms. Scott said in the interview that she did not turn up documents to suggest that Ms. Dunham had a similar dispute with her health insurer, which she did not name. She said she could not determine from the documents she viewed whether Mr. Obama, then a lawyer in Chicago, had in fact petitioned Cigna on his mother’s behalf.