Policy-ish

Do As Obama Says On Health, Not Necessarily As He Does

In case you missed it, President Obama did pretty well on a recent annual checkup and some related medical tests.

President Barack Obama turns to talk to reporters, as he walks across Lafayette Park in Washington, i

President Barack Obama turns to talk to reporters, as he walks across Lafayette Park in Washington, Monday, March 1, 2010. Charles Dharapak/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Charles Dharapak/AP
President Barack Obama turns to talk to reporters, as he walks across Lafayette Park in Washington,

President Barack Obama turns to talk to reporters, as he walks across Lafayette Park in Washington, Monday, March 1, 2010.

Charles Dharapak/AP

But now the president is coming in for criticism that he set a bad example by having a couple of high-tech tests that exposed him to radiation while providing no proven clinical benefit. His experience also shows it's easier to talk about cutting waste than to do it.

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 itfor 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...."

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