Obama is getting a bit of a bum rap for eulogizing a campaign volunteer (Melanie Shouse, per this, or this) who Obama claims, incorrectly, died without health insurance but insisted on being buried in an Obama t-shirt.
First, let's grapple with her insurance situation. Here is how Obama described it (my emphasis):
I got a letter -- I got a note today from one of my staff -- they forwarded it to me -- from a woman in St. Louis who had been part of our campaign, very active, who had passed away from breast cancer. She didn't have insurance. She couldn't afford it, so she had put off having the kind of exams that she needed. And she had fought a tough battle for four years.
That is kind of right, but wrong. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, we learn that she had catastrophic coverage with a high deductible and skimped on routine exams:
When Melanie Shouse began feeling ill, eventually finding a lump in her breast, she couldn't afford a doctor. She and her partner had just used their savings to open a business.
A year later, doctors told her she had terminal, stage four breast cancer.
She spent the next 4½ years fighting for health care reform that she didn't live to see pass.
Ms. Shouse died Saturday (Jan. 30, 2010) at her home in Overland. She was 41.
...In a speech in November at the Arch grounds, she spoke about the need to "take on the Big Insurance Monopoly and liberate American families from the slavery of skyrocketing insurance premiums and canceled coverage, which leave millions of us in a state of perpetual fear and insecurity ..."
Using herself as an example, Ms. Shouse said she had put off going to a doctor because her health insurance policy had a $5,000 deductible. She called it "'hit by a bus' kind of insurance."
If I can rely on this, it appears that she chose to invest in her business rather than in routine medical care and missed the news of the looming catastrophe. Had she been literally hit by a bus, I assume she would have noticed and taken steps.
Jaelithe, a sympathetic blogger, provides a similar description of Ms. Shouse's insurance situation:
And why did she do all this work? It wasn't to save herself from cancer. Melanie's health insurance problems had prevented her from seeking immediate care the day she first noticed a lump in her breast.
When Melanie's breast cancer was finally diagnosed, it was already Stage Four. After her diagnosis — delayed because the only insurance policy she could afford for herself as a small business owner was a catastrophic care policy with a $5,000 deductible — her insurance company denied her necessary treatment on multiple occasions. Her prognosis was grim.
Well, her insurance problem was not that she didn't have any, or was denied treatment due to pre-existing conditions; it is that insurance is expensive, as are routine exams, so she saved money by skipping exams. As to her being denied treatment, the Post story only mentions one incident, which is pretty clearly a late stage experimental therapy, of which there are many.
As to what her example illustrates, I don't know whether ObamaCare offers subsidized insurance to small business owners (frankly, I could believe anything).
[MORE: She would have been 37 when she noticed the lump; her insurance may have covered a mammogram had she been above 40 even with a high deductible (the notion is that a ounce of prevention can be a lot cheaper than a pound of cure). Of course, a Federal health panel just suggested moving the guideline back to 50, but they were shouted down.
In any case, this site says a typical mammogram costs about $100 for the uninsured. As an insured patient, she would only be billed the insurer's discount price.]
Now, let's cut back to the bum rap on t-shirts. This is from Byron York, describing Obama's speech at a DNC fundraiser:
Obama pledged to keep fighting for a national health care system. "We knew this was hard," Obama said. And then he described a letter he received from a campaign worker who suffered from breast cancer and has since died:
I got a letter -- I got a note today from one of my staff -- they forwarded it to me -- from a woman in St. Louis who had been part of our campaign, very active, who had passed away from breast cancer. She didn't have insurance. She couldn't afford it, so she had put off having the kind of exams that she needed. And she had fought a tough battle for four years. All through the campaign she was fighting it, but finally she succumbed to it. And she insisted she's going to be buried in an Obama t-shirt.
Many observers have noted that the president often seems extraordinarily self-referential. It's all about him, they say. But even those critics might be a little taken aback by the "buried in an Obama t-shirt" remark. Is it really that much about him?
Troubling. If Obama weren't so awesome I would worry about this hint of a cult of personality. And I am sure that if Bush had said something this daft we would not be subjected to a lot of context from Maddow, Dowd, Olbermann and Krugman (four new horsemen?!?). However, the Allahpundit takes a more charitable view, which is supported by the tape. Inshallah:
Heard in context here, during a pitch about ObamaCare, it sounds to me like he’s simply using the t-shirt as a symbol of the dream of universal health care, not as some political last rite by which those bearing the mark of the Messiah shall attain salvation. The point, in other words, is that she was so committed to O-Care — not necessarily to O himself — that she chose to endorse it unto eternity by wearing the shirt. Or so a charitable interpretation would have it.
Well, yes. After the crowd laughs about the t-shirt, Obama says, roughly, that the woman wasn't fighting just to get Obama elected, or even just to get herself health insurance; she was fighting for the thousands of people coming behind her who would benefit from health reform. Let's go live!
But think about this: She was fighting that whole time not just to get me elected, not even to get herself health insurance, but because she understood that there were others coming behind her who were going to find themselves in the same situation and she didn't want somebody else going through that same thing. How can I say to her, "You know what? We're giving up"? How can I say to her family, "This is too hard"? How can Democrats on the Hill say, "This is politically too risky"? How can Republicans on the Hill say, "We're better off just blocking anything from happening"?
He did challenge the crowd with this puzzler:
"How can I say to her, you know what, we're giving up?"
How, indeed? Maybe a corpse-man could make himself useful here. He corrects himself in the next clause, asking how he can tell her family that Democrats quit because health reform is too hard.
So - a woman walking a tough road kept her commitment to Obama and Obama feels obliged to maintain his commitment to her. I would say the t-shirt is an overly personalized symbol of that, but the story is fine.