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.
The news is in “A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother,” a generally admiring new biography written by former New York Times reporter Janny Scott. Scott, who had access to Dunham’s correspondence, 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,” 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.”
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.”