During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama often discussed his mother’s struggle with cancer. Ann Dunham spent the months before her death in 1995, Obama said, fighting with insurance companies that sought to deny her the coverage she needed to pay for treatment. …
… It was a simple and powerful story, one Obama would tell many more times as president during the national health care debate. But now we’re learning the real story of Ann Dunham’s health coverage is not quite what her son made it out to be. …
… In January 1995 she left Indonesia to go home to Honolulu, where she was diagnosed with advanced uterine and ovarian cancer. She began a regime of surgery and chemotherapy.
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,” [former New York Times reporter Janny] 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.
A dozen years later, her son turned her ordeal into a campaign pitch for national health care. But the story Obama told, Scott writes, was “abbreviated” — the abbreviation was to leave out the fact that Ann Dunham had health insurance that paid for her treatment. “Though he often suggested that she was denied health coverage because of a pre-existing condition,” Scott writes, “it appears from her correspondence that she was only denied disability coverage.”
That’s a different story altogether. One the president never told.