Obama Health Exam Under Attack

checkupPresident Obama is setting a bad example for the country by getting expensive, unnecessary medical tests, at least two critics charge.

NPR’s Scott Hensley reports:

For starters, take the whiz-bang CT scan that looked for traces of calcium in his coronary arteries, a screening test for heart disease. Dr. Rita Redberg, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, writes she was “troubled” by that scan in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

How come? Redberg, who also edits the journal, says the scan poses a real, though low, cancer risk and a “lack of proven benefit” for people at low risk of heart disease. That’s why the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force doesn’t recommend it for routine use. In fact, Redberg writes, Obama should just quit smoking–that would do more for him than any result he might get from the snazzy CT scan.

Then there’s the cost. For the CT scan, figure at least $500. See this New York Times article from a few years back on the debate about CT angiography.

Obama also got screened for colon cancer, which isn’t recommended for men under 50, Redberg notes. What’s more, he got a virtual colonoscopy, another fancy sort of CT scan which also isn’t recommended by the USPSTF. You might have trouble getting your insurance company to pay for one of those.

But, as Redberg concludes, it’s not likely Obama “will have a dispute with his insurance company over the costs of the tests performed at his physical examination, whether or not they were necessary….”


Politico’s Chris Frates cites this report and charges, “So for all his talk about doing away with costly tests in favor of proven, cost effective medicine, Obama’s not exactly setting a good example.”

Now, my doctorate is in philosophy, not medicine.  But I know enough about diagnostics (I’m a faithful follower of “House, MD”) to be leery of second guessing the medical staff of the president of the United States from afar.

Maybe Obama isn’t at low risk of heart disease.  Maybe there are reasons that, despite being slightly under 50, Obama needed a colonoscopy.  Perhaps he has a family history.   Perhaps one of his doctors figured that being President of the United States constitutes an additional risk factor.  (Indeed, it’s well known that being president “ages” a man.  So, perhaps there’s a Top Secret conversion chart that shows Obama is actually 57 in President Years.)

I didn’t vote for Obama.  And, if I had my druthers, I’d rather have Joe Biden as president than Obama.   But I’d nonetheless very much hope Obama lives out the rest of his term in good health.  (I wish him well after that, too, although I’d prefer he lose the POTUS risk factor.)  And, yes, I’m willing to pay my share of the cost of keeping him in good working order.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. just me says:

    I know they recommend a colonoscopy earlier-I think starting at 40 for people with a family history of colon cancer, so it is possible this came into play.

    Although I was under the impression the colonoscopy beef was with the type used, not so much the procedure being done, just the more expensive version being done.

    But generally I don’t care enough to nitpick doctor’s visits. I kind of find getting the doctor’s report from the president’s physical as an invasion of his privacy. He might be the president, and my taxes may pay his salary and pay for his current housing and protection, but I don’t think that gives me a right to access his medical information.

  2. yetanotherjohn says:

    I agree that the holder of the office (whomever that is) should get the top medical care. Statistically, I don’t know about making a case for the office being a risk factor for heart attack (I can’t remember any sitting president dieing from heart attack), but intuitively it makes sense. You can certainly justify the ‘virtual’ colonoscopy on the grounds of not putting Obama under and having Biden play president for a few hours.

    But I do see this as symbolic of the rules being for the little people and not for the ‘elite’. Obama would have scored ‘points’ if he had limited his check-up and tests to what would have been allowed under Obamacare. Shouldn’t he lose points for not doing that?

    Obama sends his children to private school rather than subject them to public school (that would be an interesting piece of journalism to contrast the private school to the school 1600 pensylvania would use). We can all understand why, but why takeaway DC school vouchers for the common DC resident? To pay off teacher union campaign support.

    Laws that say the IRS can’t access a greater penalty for non-compliance than what they access Obama nominees makes sense to me. Congressional health insurance shouldn’t be gold plated when they are then planning to tax out of existence private market plans (unless you are union because of their special interest position).

    Bottom line is I don’t begrudge the POTUS getting the best medical care. I do begrudge Obama trying to decide what is best for my medical care and not living up to the same standards.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    I particularly agree with yetanotherjohn’s point about wanting to avoid putting the POTUS under. Given all of the other efforts to maintain safe communications and a chain-of-command, the virtual colonoscopy is probably peanuts.

  4. Herb says:

    I can’t remember any sitting president dieing dying from heart attack

    Well, there was Warren G Harding…

    Also, Dwight Eisenhower had a heart attack while president and spent many months convalescing a few blocks from my house at the Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center in Denver, CO.

    I believe presidents can and should get “gold-plated” medical care, regardless of their views on healthcare reform. And if you really think Obama was going to “score points” by skipping the colonoscopy, you haven’t been paying attention.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Due to his smoking President Obama is at higher risk for colorectal cancer and cardiovascular disease than would a non-smoker of his age with similar good health. I would think that the family history of cancer would be another risk factor.

    I think that this is a better example of how rising standards of care contribute to higher cost than it is of excessive testing. In any case isn’t it President Obama’s doctors we should be complaining about rather than President Obama himself?

  6. sam says:


    But I do see this as symbolic of the rules being for the little people and not for the ‘elite’. Obama would have scored ‘points’ if he had limited his check-up and tests to what would have been allowed under Obamacare.

    What, exactly, are those tests?

  7. Melinda says:

    President Obama is the President – he IS part of the Elite. We ensure that he is surrounded by the best security, living situation, health care, etc. It is the law – not an elective measure. I wonder Mr. James Joyner, were you so cavalier about Pres. Bush’s life while he was President? You know, I have NEVER wished a man to die-not even Bush after using our Military to rage a War based on a personal vendetta against the Bush Family. He is “our” President, and he at least deserves the same respect that Bush received.