Bill Bradley -- life saver?

The presidential hopeful's new commercial claims that he once saved a baby's life, but the truth is a little more complicated than that.


Jake Tapper
November 16, 1999 6:00PM (UTC)

A commercial scheduled to air Wednesday in New Hampshire and Iowa on behalf of former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley's presidential campaign includes the testimony of a woman named Maureen Drumm who claims that "thanks to Sen. Bradley, my daughter is alive today."

Behind this claim lies a somewhat more complicated story than the simple cause-and-effect relationship implied by the commercial.

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The 60-second spot focuses on Bradley's biography, featuring testimony from Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., lauding Bradley's work on the 1986 Tex Reform Act, and Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., who talks up Bradley's outspokenness after the Rodney King beating.

Drumm appears at the end of the commercial, telling the camera, "When I was pregnant with my second child, Bill Bradley proposed a law that women be allowed to stay in the hospital for 48 hours. Thanks to Sen. Bradley, my daughter is alive today. That's the type of man I want in the White House." Words appear on the screen saying: "It can happen."

In June 1995, Bradley introduced The Newborns and Mothers Health Protection Act, which mandated that insurers provide 48 hours in hospital stays for mothers and their newborns. On Sept. 5, 1996, the legislation passed the Senate despite the ardent opposition of the American Association of Health Plans.

President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law in September 1996. Without question, the law has eased the transition from hospital to home for many new mothers who were previously basically forced to go home within 24 hours of giving birth. The bill probably has even saved lives.

A close examination of Drumm's story, however, makes it apparent that her daughter's is probably not one of them.

But Bradley communications director Anita Dunn defends the ad: "That's how Maureen feels. And there are millions of women across the country" who feel that way as well.

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A spokeswoman in the public affairs department at Independence Blue Cross, which was Drumm's insurance company at the time, was a little less impressed by Drumm's claim that Bradley had saved her baby's life: "Really?" the spokeswoman joked, "Did he operate on her?"

If only Bradley's claim to have saved a life were as easily verified as that of Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn. Frist, a heart surgeon, has performed CPR on at least one visitor to the Capitol.

But the facts with this case are these: Maureen Drumm, who has lupus, gave birth to her first child, Bridget Theresa, in a complicated pregnancy at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in August 1992. Twenty-six hours after giving birth, Drumm developed a uterine infection, which sent her into shock. Only hours after that, her newborn daughter's bilirubin shot up to a dangerous level -- 18 mg percent. A bilirubin level of 21 mg percent in a child between 24 and 48 hours old could cause medical complications, medical experts say, though usually not.

But Drumm's insurance company allowed her a 48-hour stay during that 1992 delivery, so Drumm was in the hospital when the crises occurred. Accordingly, both she and her daughter were treated immediately and avoided any harm.

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By the time Drumm was pregnant with her second child, in April 1995, Independence Blue Cross only provided 24 hour stays for routine deliveries. Drumm, concerned about how her lupus might affect her second delivery, "pleaded with my insurance company for the extra time so I could be monitored." But they said no. Drumm started crying.

"With the lupus, my children are all born early," Drumm told Salon.com. "There can be complications. My children all experienced jaundice, because their livers weren't developed enough. It's common with all deliveries but especially when born to a mother with lupus. And it doesn't show up immediately ... I wanted to be sure that I had enough time in the hospital. Deliveries are obviously very stressful, and they can cause a lupus flare-up. I thought, 'What if I'm in my living room? What do I do?' I mean, I don't have a medical background."

Then Drumm read in the Philadelphia Inquirer that the state of New Jersey had just passed a law requiring insurance companies to provide 48-hour stays for deliveries. Drumm contacted her local state senator and representative, but they weren't much help, she says. One staffer told Drumm that there was "no activity" on the matter in the state senate, and another told her that the state representative was just beginning to draft such a bill.

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"At the bottom of the article," Drumm says, "it said that Sen. Bradley was working to make 48-hour stays the law on the federal level ... I was getting all these 'No's, so I decided to call Sen. Bradley. Getting it passed on the federal level is better than just the state, anyway."

Drumm's husband, Christopher, thought she was barking up the wrong tree. "You're not a New Jersey resident," he said, "you're not one of his constituents. He's going to laugh at you."

"How could this hurt?" she asked her husband.

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Drumm was patched through to a Bradley health care aide and 24 hours later she and her husband were meeting with Bradley in the Hart Senate Office Building.

"I was very impressed," she says. "We weren't New Jersey residents, we weren't constituents, we couldn't vote for him, but there we were. And he genuinely cared about us, as people. He was wonderful. He gave us ideas about what to do. He told us to call local papers, make a lot of noise, and get our story out."

Drumm followed the senator's advice, and within a few weeks, the state representative's office that had earlier seemed so worthless had called Drumm back and invited her to testify at an upcoming hearing on the issue. On July 26, 1995, Drumm testified about her situation and her concern about her second pregnancy.

Lorina Marshall, a vice president of Independence Blue Cross, was at the hearing, and after Drumm testified, Marshall approached her. Drumm hadn't mentioned the name of her insurance company, and Marshall wanted to make sure it wasn't her employer. When Drumm told her that it indeed was, Marshall said, "Give me a copy of your testimony. You're going to hear from us."

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On July 31, a representative of Independence Blue Cross contacted Drumm and told her she'd been pre-approved for a 48-hour stay. On Aug. 3, Independence Blue Cross held a press conference announcing that the company was changing its policy back to allowing 48-hour stays. "We had already been working on that," says Marshall. "It didn't pop up as a result of working with her. We'd pretty much already resolved what we were going to do."

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Bradley continued fighting for his bill. In testimony presented to the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources in support for his bill in September 1995, Bradley said that Drumm "had been told that if she had been forced to leave the hospital after 24 hours, as is now common, she probably would have died and her daughter would have been retarded."

One pediatrician labels that "hyperbole -- but potentially true."

Two days after Independence Blue Cross held its press conference, Drumm gave birth to Maura Elizabeth at Holy Redeemer Hospital in Meadowbrook, Penn. The delivery was less difficult, though the 48-hour stay was a relief since Maura Elizabeth, too, contracted jaundice and needed care.

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A year later, Bradley's bill passed the Senate.

So where's the baby whose life Bradley saved? Drumm's third child, Caitlin Ann, was born at Abington Memorial Hospital, without complications after Bradley's bill had become law.

The idea that Bradley saved her life is, at best, a figurative sort of claim.

"I believe my third child is alive today because of Sen. Bradley," insists Drumm. "Because there wouldn't have even been a third pregnancy if I thought I'd have to fight with the insurance companies. If there wasn't the law saying that now the insurance companies have to give us this time in the hospital, I couldn't have done it."

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But as admirable as Bradley's receptiveness to her plight was, and as important as his bill remains, wasn't the latest campaign ad misleading, because he actually didn't save any of her daughters' lives?

"Everybody can take this how they want," Drumm responds, "but that's how I look at it."


Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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