President Obama would frequently make the case for universal healthcare with a heart-rending story about his mother battling terminal cancer and wondering whether her health insurance would cover it.

A new book by a New York Times reporter casts doubt on the anecdote, suggesting that it was a disability claim rather than cancer treatment that was disputed.

Ann's compensation for her job in Jakarta had included health insurance, which covered most of the costs of her medical treatment, Janny Scott writes in A Singular Woman: the Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother. Once she was back in Hawaii, the hospital billed her insurance company directly, leaving Ann to pay only the deductible and any uncovered expenses, which, she said, came to several hundred dollars a month.

That seems to contradict the statements Obama would make while stumping, including a 2007 claim that in the last month of her life, she wasn't thinking about how to get well, she wasn't thinking about coming to terms with her own mortality, she was thinking about whether or not insurance was going to cover the medical bills and whether our family would be bankrupt as a consequence.

The White House did not deny the account, suggesting that Obama may not have been able to accurately recall something that happened over a decade ago.

We have not reviewed the letters or other material on which the author bases her account, White House spokesman Nicholas Papas told the New York Times. The president has told this story based on his recollection of events that took place more than 15 years ago.