WASHINGTON — For a moment, President Obama’s pledge to keep fighting for major health care legislation got personal on Thursday night as he told supporters at a fund-raiser about a former campaign worker in St. Louis without health insurance who had died of breast cancer.
“She insisted she is going to be buried in an Obama T-shirt,” he said, drawing nervous laughter from the otherwise hushed crowd. “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?’ ”
Obama told the crowd that the woman had no health insurance, so viewed that way the Times reporting is literally accurate. However, the woman, Melanie Shouse, did in fact have insurance - she had a catastrophic policy with a $5,000 deductible and did not want to drop a few hundred bucks on a routine exam and a mammogram, despite feeling a lump in her breast at age 37.
The Times couldn't get her name or her actual insurance information? Her story was good enough to lead with but not quite good enough to check? They will be correcting the President promptly, I have no doubt. Hillary, of course, is shaking her head.
Over at ABC News Sunlen Miller did get a name and moved the anecdote deep into her coverage (my emphasis):
And what may be a lasting anecdote for the president’s push on health care reform – Mr. Obama told for the first time a story about a woman in St. Louis who had been part of his campaign.
She couldn’t afford health insurance and put off her exams. After a tough battle for four years, throughout the campaign. She died 5 days ago.
“She insisted that she is going to be buried in an Obama t-shirt,” Obama said, “She was fighting that whole time not just to get me elected, not even to get herself health care, but because she understood that there were others coming behind her who were going to find themselves in the situation. And he didn’t want others going through that something.”
The President questioned, then how he could give up on health care reform now.
“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 risky? How can Republicans on the Hill say we’re better off just blocking anything from happening?”
“That can’t be the message,” Obama concluded.
The president did not divulge the name of the woman – but the White House says he was referencing Melanie Shouse, 41, who passed away on January 30th.
The highlighted paragraph looks more like notes than a final draft. Or maybe Ms. Miller found her inner Ernest, briefly. But she didn't find time to Google Ms. Shouse and correct Obama's "lasting anecdote". Hilary nods.
AND FOR THE DEEPLY PEDANTIC: Obama said Ms. Shouse was "buried" in an Obama t-shirt, but apparently she had asked to be cremated.
STILL MORE: Here are three other sources on Ms. Shouse's insurance situation:
Ms. Shouse statement for a demonstration on 9/22/2009:
My name is Melanie Shouse, and I am a breast cancer survivor. Four years ago, at age 37, I was an entrepreneur struggling to grow my small business, and only able to afford a catastrophic health insurance policy with co-pays and deductibles nearing ten thousand dollars. I had to take the ultimate risk with my health in order to chase the American Dream, like so many small business owners in America today. So when I first felt a small lump, denial seemed the only option available to me.
But as our nation has learned so painfully over the last eight years, denial only leads to catastrophe. In October 2005, I was forced to admit reality by walking into Siteman Cancer Center for the dreaded diagnosis. But by this time, the cancer had spread throughout my body to bone, lungs and liver. It was now classified as Stage 4 breast cancer, the kind you don't recover from. My chance of survival was pegged at just 13% as a result of the delay in diagnosis and treatment caused by inadequate health coverage.
My worries were not limited to my health, however. I had no savings and no real assets to cover the monumental costs associated with these expensive treatments. And with this prize-winning pre-existing condition, I had no opportunity to seek a better private health plan, as I was now shut out of the market. Having no other choice, I quickly turned to our public Missouri Medicaid program, and within days I received this Medicaid card that would help save my life. Now I could walk into one of the top cancer centers in the world right up the street here and receive top-notch care without having to sell a kidney to cover the insurance deductible!
My treatment commenced post haste, and I am standing here today thanks to the Missouri Medicaid program, and the federal Medicare program for which I became eligible after a two-year waiting period. These efficient and effective public health plans have enabled me to receive some of the best cutting-edge care in the world, equivalent to the coverage our Senators and Congressmen enjoy, without ever having to wait or worry.
Some thoughts: First, the timeline is murky - if she first felt a lump four years ago, that would have been September 2005; she was formally diagnosed in October 2005, so the delay was minor. Fine, maybe "four years" is more like four and half years.
But set that aside - once diagnosed, she promptly availed herself of Medicaid. So why the wait - wouldn't she have been eligible for Medicaid six months earlier (or whatever), or did the business have to falter first?
In a story cited below we learn that Ms. Shouse and her partner had just put $30,000 into their small business in 2004, so cash was tight when she noticed the lump. That would compare with the "monumental" annual expense of $10,000 in deductibles and co-pays.
In this video (she comes in at the two minute mark) Ms. Shouse says she ignored her problem for several years. If she was diagnosed in 2005, she suspected something was wrong in 2003. Wow - she had a lump in her breast but ignored it so she could max out her debt and open a store. Maybe based on her age and family history (with which I am not familiar) that made sense.
People's World, Feb 4 does not add much.
We get more background on her financial situation from an interview last September:
Shouse, 40, of Overland, was diagnosed nearly four years ago. She had put off going to the doctor because she knew she couldn't afford health care costs. She had a catastrophic health insurance policy with a $5,000 deductible. She calls it "hit by a bus kind of insurance."
When she did seek care, she went straight to Siteman Cancer Center.
"By then, I could have been diagnosed from across the street. It wasn't a surprise," she said.
...Shouse, who had co-owned Sweet Meat Stix, a beef kabob business in St. Ann, had only carried the catastrophic policy. Her business partner, Steve Hart, also carried a catastrophic policy. He has since battled liver disease.
Shouse said they could only afford such policies because they saved, borrowed and maxed out their credit cards to start their own business. They previously had sold their product at festivals, but opened a store in 2004.
It was only after spending $30,000 to transform a former Domino's store into a business that Shouse noticed her first tumor. She finally was diagnosed in October 2005. She soon became too ill to work.
Once on Medicaid, a lawyer provided pro bono work to apply for her to get Medicare. That's when she learned Stage 4 cancer is a "jackpot" diagnosis for being certified disabled and receiving Medicare - after a two-year waiting period.
Her bills are now mostly paid by Medicare and Medicaid. What bills remain go into a pile that she never looks at. That still does not keep her from having to worry about health care.
Shouse is now on her third round of chemotherapy to fight off the bone cancer and liver tumors. That treatment did not keep her from becoming bedridden for a month this spring. She was then given Avastin, a biologic therapy that costs $6,500 for a two-week supply. Since then she has been able to keep food down and "get off the couch." Her insurance provider has since sent her a letter saying it won't pay for Avastin.
"The insurance bureaucracy shouldn't stand between me and my doctor and treatment," Shouse said. "Like they know more than a world-renowned oncologist."
Medicare, Medicaid and her private insurance all declined this treatment? Well, Avastin is an odd and expensive drug:
But on average, Avastin only increases patients' life spans by a couple months. The big sales are partly a result of the high cost--up to $55,000 per patient--and the fact that many people are treated so only a few can benefit. In breast cancer, the drug hasn't extended patients' lives at all in several studies.
"Is it a home run drug? No," says Jennifer Litton, a breast cancer specialist at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. "When I've seen it work, it works phenomenally, but we need to get smarter as to who those people are that get those dramatic responses."