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Monday, March 19, 2012

‘The Road We’ve Traveled:’ Misleading account of Obama’s mother & her insurance dispute

“The Road We’ve Traveled” is a very slick and impressively produced campaign film—sheer catnip for Obama fans. There are a number of facts and figures that could be challenged, but for now we are going to focus on this sequence. The series of words and images is an excellent example of how such films can create a misleading impression, while skirting as close as possible to the edge of falsehood.

The sequence, in fact, evokes a famous story that candidate Obama told during the 2008 campaign—that his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, fought with her insurer over whether her cancer was a pre-existing condition that disqualified her from coverage.

But the story was later called into question by Dunham’s biographer. The fact that Obama’s initial claim is not directly repeated suggests the filmmakers knew there was a problem with the campaign story, but they clearly wanted to keep some version of it in the film.

The Facts

During the 2008 campaign, Obama frequently suggested his mother had to fight with her health-insurance company for treatment of her cancer because it considered her disease to be a pre-existing condition. In one of the presidential debates with GOP rival John McCain, Obama said:
“For my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 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.”
But then earlier this year, journalist Janny Scott cast serious doubt on this version of events in her excellent biography, “A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s mother.” Scott reviewed letters from Durham to the CIGNA insurance company, and revealed the dispute was over disability coverage, not health insurance coverage (see pages 335-339).

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