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.

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

Confessions of Moms Around the World

A global look at the hardest and best job ever

Video

A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book

Video

The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"

Video

This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.

More in Politics

Just In