Secrecy surrounds candidates' health
Nick Juliano
Published: Monday October 20, 2008

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No records from Palin, limited disclosure by McCain, Obama, Biden

Charged with evaluating the health of this year's presidential candidates, New York Times medical correspondent Lawrence K. Altman was met with evasions, diversions and a questioning of his motives.

A spokeswoman for Republican candidate John McCain, who would become the nation's oldest president if elected, delivered a snide retort questioning his paper's motives when Altman pressed for answers to the many unanswered questions about McCain's various bouts with potentially fatal skin cancer.
Last week, The Times contacted the McCain campaign to fill in gaps in the medical records. Ms. [Jill] Hazelbaker, the McCain spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail message: “As you know, we disclosed over 1,200 pages of Senator McCain’s medical history to Dr. Altman’s colleagues in the press earlier this year. We also arranged a Mayo Clinic briefing with three of Senator McCain’s physicians that Dr. Altman listened to by phone. Additionally, we released a detailed document outlining his most recent physical and lab test results. It was an unprecedented level of disclosure, and Dr. Altman can look at the public document on our Web site if he wishes to do so. It was certainly more significant than the one-page doctor’s note Obama released, though I have little hope The Times will report it that way.”
Altman's article appeared in Monday's newspaper. He concluded that none of the candidates were particularly forthcoming about their medical histories.

Where McCain at least gave a hand-picked group of journalists a brief glimpse at his medical history, the Republican's running mate Sarah Palin has refused to release a single page of her own medical records. Obama gave Altman a summary of his last checkup in January 2007, in addition to the one-page memo from his doctor released earlier this year. But the Democratic candidate still has been less than fully forthcoming about his history with cigarettes and his progress quitting smoking.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden has perhaps the most serious health concerns aside from McCain. He survived a burst brain aneurysm in 1988 and had a second one removed. Biden has fully recovered, but he has not undergone tests that could determine whether the aneurysm had returned, as can happen in about 5 percent of cases, Altman reported.

Altman, one of the few professional journalists who also is a medical doctor, has evaluated candidates' health for the last nine election cycles, including George Bush, Dick Cheney, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman in 2000 and John Kerry and John Edwards in 2004.

McCain's health has been an issue in a campaign from Brave New Films arguing that there's a reasonable chance he could die in office because his cancer could reoccur. Doctors differ on the likelihood of that scenario, with estimates ranging between a 10 and 60 percent chance.

GOP VP nominee Palin has said nothing about her health. Soon after her selection was announced, the Alaska governor faced a slew of Web rumors surrounding the recent birth of her son Trig. The McCain-Palin campaign used the rumors to attack reporters for asking any questions and they've steadfastly refused to provide any answers.

Biden faced renewed questions over the weekend about his medical history, and the Democratic campaign decided to allow reporters to examine his medical records.