Obama's Mother Didn't Fight With Health Insurers While Dying

Remember that sad story from Obama about his mother spent the last months of her life fighting with her insurer over reimbursement for her cancer treatment, worrying that she'd leave her family destitute, rather than dying in peace?


It seems to not, er, be true:
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.
A lot of the right is no doubt going to jump on Obama as a liar, but I think it's entirely plausible that this is how he remembered it: it was a terrible time, and memory is unreliable.  I just called a source to verify a story about the passage of the steel tariffs under the Bush administration--only to find that despite my crystal clear memory of the story, it actually concerned the 2002 Farm Bill.

However.  That's why I called my source: because memory isn't that reliable.  Given how often Obama rolled out this claim on the campaign trail, I think he should have checked the details (or had one of his staff do so).  Repeating it over and over, without ever looking into it, leaves you vulnerable to the all-to-plausible charge that this story was, as journalists like to say, "Too good to check."
Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we still save the night sky?

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we still save the night sky?

Video

The Faces of #BlackLivesMatter

Scenes from a recent protest in New York City

Video

Desegregated, Yet Unequal

A short documentary about the legacy of Boston busing

Video

Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life

The Supreme Court justice talks gender equality and marriage.

Video

Social Media: The Video Game

What if the validation of your peers could "level up" your life?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Politics

Just In