Obama tackles healthcare critics

August 12, 2009 12:00 am

, WASHINGTON, Aug 12 – Among the heartrending tales invoked by President Barack Obama as he stumps for healthcare reform, none is more poignant than that of his own mother’s losing fight against cancer.

As he presses for an overhaul of the healthcare system, Obama often recounts the crises faced by Americans who with their jobs have lost their medical coverage, or who file for bankruptcy when faced with a health calamity.

But Exhibit A among the tragic examples is that of his own mother, Ann Dunham, who lost her fight to cancer nearly a decade and a half ago as she battled insurance companies.

"It’s… personal for me," Obama told a crowd at a high-profile forum on Tuesday in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

"I will never forget my own mother as she fought cancer in her final months, having to worry about whether her insurance would refuse to pay for her treatment," he told the crowd.

He was reprising a story he told frequently on the campaign trail, and more recently on the road, while drumming up support for his health industry reform agenda.

"The insurance company was arguing that somehow she should have known that she had cancer when she took her new job, even though it hadn’t been diagnosed yet," Obama told the New Hampshire audience Tuesday.

"If it could happen to her, it could happen to any one of us. And I’ve heard from so many Americans who have the same worries."

In the preface to his first book, "Dreams From My Father," an elegy to his absentee dad, Obama also eulogizes the mother "whom we lost, with a brutal swiftness, to cancer a few months after this book was originally published."

According to some news accounts, Ann Dunham’s cancer at first had been misdiagnosed in Indonesia as indigestion.

It was later determined by experts at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York to be a fast-moving uterine cancer that had spread to her ovaries.

In remarks that seem informed by his mother’s ordeal, Obama added that his goal now with healthcare reform is to set up a system "that gives a little bit of help to people who currently are working hard every day but they don’t have healthcare insurance on the job."

He also hopes to ensure that patients already insured "are not going to be dropped because of a pre-existing conditions or because you lose your job or because you change your job — that you’re actually going to get what you pay for, that you’re not going to find out when you’re sick that you got cheated."

"If we can set up a system that gives you some security, that’s worth a lot," he said.

His mother’s frustrating odyssey as a cancer patient also figured into his historic presidential campaign, when he vowed to remake the medical coverage system.

"In (her) last painful months, she was more worried about paying her medical bills than getting well," Obama said in one campaign advertisement that aired in 2008.

"I hear stories like hers everyday. For 20 years Washington has talked about healthcare reform and reformed nothing. Unless we stop the bickering and the lobbyists we will be in the same place 20 years from now," he said.

Ann Dunham returned to her home state of Hawaii where she lived out the final months of her life, and died at the age of 53 on November 7, 1995, before Obama — who by then was living in Chicago — could get to her bedside to say goodbye.

Obama has said that his greatest regret is not being at his mother’s side when she died, and has called her the most influential person in his life.

"I think sometimes that had I known she would not survive her illness, I might have written a different book — less a meditation on the absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life," he wrote in "Dreams From My Father."

"She was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known," Obama wrote, "and that what is best in me I owe to her."


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