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The good news behind Obama's sad Natoma Canfield story

March 16, 2010 |  2:26 am

Democrat president Barack Obama in Strongsville Ohio 3-15-10

In his latest bid to personalize and push healthcare legislation through a Congress with some recalcitrant Democrats, President Obama held another town hall Monday on his favorite topic.

This one, as The Ticket reported right here earlier today, was in Strongsville, Ohio. Much as journalists often do to personalize a story, the Democrat made a poster person out of Natoma Canfield, a 50-year-old Ohio cancer patient with a long tragic story of survival and setbacks that Obama shared with a sympathetic crowd booing the mere mention of insurance companies.

In a bid to drive a handful of House votes into his corner with powerful personal stories that resonate more than dry policy points, Obama said there are "countless others" facing large uncovered medical costs like Natoma.

In January, the president said, the woman gave up her health insurance because the premiums had grown too large. And she was filled with worry over the financial burden on her family, especially losing her house.

We have the full presidential passage below about Natoma, whom Obama credited as the reason for his trip to the politically vital state of Ohio, not notoriously high unemployment. "I'm here because of Natoma," Obama said.

This morning, interim good news. Judson Berger and Marla Chichowski of Fox News checked into the story of Natoma, who is undergoing treatment at the famous Cleveland Clinic. A spokeswoman there said the woman was virtually certain to qualify for aid and, anyway, the clinic has no intention of placing any liens on her home for the expensive care she is now receiving free.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Excerpt of President Obama's healthcare remarks, Strongsville, Ohio, as provided by the White House

I want to thank Connie, who introduced me. I want to thank her and her family for being here on behalf of her sister, Natoma.  I don't know if everybody understood that Natoma is in the hospital right now, so Connie was filling in. It’s not easy to share such a personal story, when your sister who you love so much is sick. And so I appreciate Connie being willing to do so here today, and -- (applause) -- and I want everybody to understand that Connie and her sister are the reason that I’m here today. (Applause.)

See, Connie felt it was important that her sister’s story be told. But I want to just repeat what....

...happened here.  Last month, I got a letter from Connie’s sister, Natoma. She’s self-employed, she’s trying to make ends meet, and for years she’s done the responsible thing, just like most of you have. She bought insurance -- she didn’t have a big employer who provided her insurance, so she bought her health insurance through the individual market.

And it was important for her to have insurance because 16 years ago, she was diagnosed with a treatable form of cancer.  And even though she had been cancer-free for more than a decade, the insurance companies kept on jacking up her rates, year after year. So she increased her out-of-pocket expenses. She raised her deductible.

NatomaCanfieldap

She did everything she could to maintain her health insurance that would be there just in case she got sick, because she figured, I didn’t want to be -- she didn’t want to be in a position where, if she did get sick, somebody else would have to pick up the tab; that she’d have to go to the emergency room; that the cost would be shifted onto folks through their higher insurance premiums or hospitals charging higher rates. So she tried to do the right thing.

And she upped her deductible last year to the minimum [sic], the highest possible deductible. But despite that, Natoma’s insurance company raised her premiums by more than 25 percent.  And over the past year, she paid more than $6,000 in monthly premiums.

AUDIENCE:  Boo!

THE PRESIDENT:  She paid more than $4,000 in out-of-pocket medical costs, for co-pays and medical care and prescriptions.  So all together, this woman paid $10,000 -- one year.  But because she never hit her deductible, her insurance company only spent $900 on her care.  So the insurance company is making -- getting $10,000; paying out $900.  Now, what comes in the mail at the end of last year?

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  A bill!

AUDIENCE MEMBER: A rate hike!

THE PRESIDENT:  t’s a letter telling Natoma that her premiums would go up again by more than 40 percent.

AUDIENCE:  Boo!

THE PRESIDENT: So here’s what happens. She just couldn’t afford it. She didn’t have the money. She realized that if she paid those health insurance premiums that had been jacked up by 40 percent, she couldn’t make her mortgage. And despite her desire to keep her coverage, despite her fears that she would get sick and lose the home that her parents built -- she finally surrendered, she finally gave up her health insurance.  She stopped paying it -- she couldn’t make ends meet.

So January was her last month of being insured. Like so many responsible Americans -- folks who work hard every day, who try to do the right thing -- she was forced to hang her fortunes on chance. To take a chance, that’s all she could do. She hoped against hope that she would stay healthy. She feared terribly that she might not stay healthy.

That was the letter that I read to the insurance companies, including the person responsible for raising her rates.  Now, I understand Natoma was pretty surprised when she found out that I had read it to these CEOs.  But I thought it was important for them to understand the human dimensions of this problem. Her rates have been hiked more than 40 percent.

And this was less than two weeks ago. Unfortunately, Natoma’s worst fears were realized. And just last week, she was working on a nearby farm, walking outside -- apparently, chasing after a cow -- (laughter) -- when she collapsed.  And she was rushed to the hospital. She was very sick. She needed two blood transfusions.  Doctors performed a battery of tests. And on Saturday, Natoma was diagnosed with leukemia.

Now, the reason Natoma is not here today is that she’s lying on a hospital bed, suddenly faced with this emergency -- suddenly faced with the fight of her life. She expects to face more than a month of aggressive chemotherapy. She is racked with worry not only about her illness but about the costs of the tests and the treatment that she’s surely going to need to beat it.

So you want to know why I’m here, Ohio? I’m here because of Natoma.  (End of excerpt.)    ###

Photo: Jim Young / Reuters; Associated Press (Canfield).

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