Obamacare

Were Pre-Existing Conditions Really a "Personal Issue" For Obama?

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On the campaign trail, President Obama backed banning health insurers from excluding individuals from coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It was a "personal issue" for him, he said. "For my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53," he said, "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." The only problem with this story? It may not be strictly true. From The 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.

…On Wednesday, in response to repeated requests for comment that The Times first made in mid-June, shortly after the book's release, a White House spokesman chose not to dispute either Ms. Scott's account or Mr. Obama's memory, while arguing that Mr. Obama's broader point remained salient.

"We have not reviewed the letters or other material on which the author bases her account," said Nicholas Papas, the spokesman. "The president has told this story based on his recollection of events that took place more than 15 years ago."

Last year, Obama signed a health care overhaul that included a ban on pre-existing conditions exclusions in health insurance.