Obama Misstated Story About Mother’s Health Care, New Book Says

Jul 14, 2011 11:43am

ABC News’ Mary Bruce (@marykbruce) reports:

During his 2008 presidential campaign and the fight for health care reform, President Obama often told the story of his mother Stanley Ann Dunham and how she spent the months before her death fighting with insurance companies who tried to deny her coverage based on a pre-existing condition.

That story is now being called into question by a new book which says Dunham in fact had health insurance when she died from ovarian cancer in 1995.

“My mother, when she got sick with ovarian cancer, she had just gotten a new job, and the insurance company was saying, ‘Well, maybe this is a pre-existing condition, so maybe we don’t have to pay your medical bills.’ So I know what it’s like to see a loved one suffer not just because they’re sick, but because of a broken health care system. This is personal for me,” then-candidate Obama said at a March 2008 campaign event in Pennsylvania.

In “A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother,” former New York Times reporter Janny Scott reveals that, although Obama claims Dunham was denied coverage because of a preexisting condition, she was actually only denied disability coverage.

The revelation is not being denied by the White House, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Dunham, an anthropologist, was working in Jakarta in 1994 when she began suffering from intense abdominal pains. At the time, she was working for the American company Development Alternatives, which provided her with health insurance.

An Indonesian doctor originally diagnosed Dunham with appendicitis and she debated going out of the country for an appendectomy. “‘You’ve got health insurance, that’s taken care of. We can cover the airfare. We can cover a few hundred dollars,” Scott reports Dunham’s boss telling her at the time. Ultimately, Dunham stayed in Jakarta for the surgery.

In January 1995, an increasingly ill Dunham left Indonesia for Honolulu. Just days after her arrival, a gastroenterologist concluded her problem was not gastrointestinal and referred her to an oncologist who diagnosed her with third-stage uterine and ovarian cancer.

Shortly thereafter, she underwent a total hysterectomy and started a series of six monthly chemotherapy treatments. “In Honolulu, Ann pressed on gamely. According to her correspondence, Barry [Barack] helped her with insurance forms and letters in the immediate aftermath of her surgery,” Scott writes.

According to the book, however, Dunham’s insurance continued to cover her medical expenses when she was 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. To cover those charges as well as living expenses, she filed a separate claim under her employer’s disability insurance policy. That policy, however, contain a clause allowing the company to deny any claim related to a preexisting medical condition,” Scott explains.

CIGNA, Dunham’s insurer, investigated whether her cancer was a pre-existing condition and later denied her claim based on an earlier visit to a gynecologist. Dunham then informed CIGNA that she was turning the case over to “‘my son and attorney, Barack Obama.’”

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