Obama jab at insurer went too far
HEALTH REFORM | Obama said Illinois man died because loss of coverage caused delay -- in fact, policy got reinstated, no proof wait was fatal
WASHINGTON -- When President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, he wanted to vividly convey heartbreaking stories of sick folks getting screwed by insurance companies to pressure lawmakers to pass health care reform legislation.
Obama wants to make it impossible for people to have their health insurance coverage denied or yanked because of pre-existing conditions. He is in a battle with Congress to crack down on the insurers.
Obama talked about the case of a now-deceased Downers Grove man, Otto Raddatz. Raddatz suffered horrific treatment from his insurance company. His case illustrates Obama's larger point: Insurance companies shouldn't be able to trump up a flimsy pretext to cancel a policy of someone who is sick.
Fortis Insurance Co. deserves all the scorn Obama sent its way on Wednesday. The company canceled Raddatz's policy when he needed it the most, in chemotherapy for stage IV non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a form of cancer.
But the decision of the company was reversed and the insurer was forced to pay benefits because of the persistent efforts of his sister Peggy Raddatz, a LaGrange attorney. She found her way to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's Health Care Bureau and kept up the pressure. Otto Raddatz fought his insurance company in April 2005 and won. Raddatz did not, as Obama said, die because of delayed treatment in 2005. He died in January.
Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said Obama got "the essence" of the Raddatz story "exactly right," and "the point the president wanted to make and did make" was that "insurance companies look for excuses to rescind their coverage just when [a person] needs it the most. ... And that practice has got to stop."
Obama went too far, though, when he claimed in his speech that Raddatz died because the coverage was withdrawn. Here's what Obama said Wednesday:
"One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer found that he hadn't reported gallstones that he didn't even know about. They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it."
The last sentence of Obama's can't be supported. Obama speechwriters, I was told, got their information about Raddatz in a July 27 story in Slate about the health care crisis, which said -- incorrectly -- that a fight over benefits delayed treatment, "eliminated Raddatz's chances of recovery, and he died."
Though Obama did not identify Raddatz, a White House spokesman confirmed his identity.
Here's a timeline I put together on the Raddatz case, drawn from Peggy Raddatz's June 16 testimony before a House Energy and Commerce panel dealing with bad insurers and a narrative provided by Madigan's office:
Â•Â•September 2004: Otto Raddatz, 59, was diagnosed with cancer and started chemotherapy.
Â•Â•January 2005: Raddatz prepared for a stem cell transplant.
Â•Â•April 15, 2005: Fortis canceled Raddatz's insurance. Fortis claimed Raddatz failed to disclose that a 2000 CT scan showed gallstones and an aneurysm. Peggy Raddatz said her brother was never told of those CT findings.
Â•Â•April 25, 2005: Raddatz filed a complaint with Madigan's office.
He had been scheduled for stem cell transplant surgery in three weeks. A delay at this point threatened his life.
Madigan's office filed an appeal. It was rejected the same day.
Madigan's office built a better case and filed a second appeal. Fortis reinstated Raddatz's policy. Raddatz did receive the stem cell transplant. The AG closed the case on May 6, 2005.
Â•Â•Jan. 6, 2009: Raddatz died. Peggy Raddatz testified in June that the transplant "was extremely successful. It extended his life approximately 3Â½ years."
Sun-Times reporter Cheryl V. Jackson talked to Peggy Raddatz on Wednesday night. She had no complaint with what Obama said: "The point is that my brother lost his insurance coverage when he was dying."