Fetterman balks at releasing more health data after Dr. Oz's challenge – GoErie.com

Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz — a cardiothoracic surgeon who built a television talk show around his candid approach to health conversations — last week shared medical records on everything from his electrocardiogram to his colonoscopy. 
There are no big revelations in the documents, which show the candidate weighs 182 pounds, sleeps a solid 7 or 8 hours a night and practices yoga regularly despite his campaign schedule. A bioethics expert who studies issues related to candidate medical records said most voters will probably find the report’s details pretty irrelevant.
The release, however, does underscore Oz’s insistence that his rival, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, should make similar health disclosures and that the Democrat has been opaque about the lingering effects of the life-threatening stroke he suffered earlier this year. 
“[Fetterman] has not been transparent with what’s happening with his health,” Oz said last week on Fox News. “He should at least be up front about what’s going on by releasing his medical records.”
Fetterman has not indicated he has plans to do that. His campaign deflected when asked by the USA TODAY Network Pennsylvania whether he’ll release more medical information.
“We didn’t need to know Dr. Oz’s bone density. We need to know whether he would vote to ban all abortions after 15 weeks. We need to know whether he would vote to raise the minimum wage,” Fetterman said in a statement. 
Following his May stroke, Fetterman made public his cardiologist’s assessment that he’s healthy enough to campaign and to serve as a U.S. senator, as long as he follows medical advice. His campaign has also reported the candidate performed normally on two cognitive tests
But the campaign hasn’t released documentation offering details about the cognitive evaluations. And it hasn’t shared any additional medical records since Oz went public with his health information.
Robert Streiffer, a bioethics professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said he thinks Fetterman does owe voters more information about his stroke as they decide whether to elect him to a six-year Senate term. 
Even when candidates are perfectly honest in representing their health condition to the public, their inherent conflict of interest makes it hard for voters to trust their claims without corroboration from these types of records, he said.
That being said, the most thorough medical reports in the world aren’t going to provide voters with an absolute guarantee a candidate will stay healthy enough to perform their elected duties, Streiffer added. 
“There’s still going to be a lot of uncertainty, and voters are going to have to manage that uncertainty,” Streiffer said. “They get to decide if Fetterman’s other qualities are important enough and valuable enough to say, ‘Even if he ends up having trouble, I’d still prefer him to Oz.’”
Oz released medical reports for several regular checkups, along with records from a heart electrocardiogram conducted last week and a colonoscopy from 2011. Streiffer said the way they’re presented and the kind of information contained in them look fairly standard.
The GOP nominee has long been open about the pre-cancerous polyp removed from his colon about a decade ago, during a colonoscopy he underwent for “The Dr. Oz Show.”
More:Americans trusted Dr. Oz on health. But will PA voters trust him on politics?
Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and health policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said these procedures seem to have worked exactly as they’re meant to — completely removing polyps from Oz’s colon before they had a chance to become cancerous. 
“The intention of doing these colonoscopies is to get these polyps early,” said Schaffner, who reviewed the records released by Oz’s campaign. 
The candidate’s most recent checkup, conducted last week, found that his blood pressure was normal, as was the electrocardiogram result. A blood test showed no evidence of diabetes, and his prostate cancer screening came back normal, according to his physician.
Oz’s weight is in the “upper normal range” for his height, and he has “borderline elevated” cholesterol. But in a letter summarizing the visit, Dr. Rebecca Kurth wrote that because Oz has high levels of “good cholesterol” and generally low levels of “bad cholesterol,” she doesn’t think he needs to take any medication and should simply stick to a healthy diet.
“In summary, Mehmet, you are in overall EXCELLENT health,” Kurth wrote after the examination last week. 
Schaffner said all of the tests that Oz, 62, received are typical for someone his age, and none of the results raises alarm. 
“Were I the patient, I would be very pleased with this report,” he said.
Fetterman has waved off the release of Oz’s health records as unimportant next to more pressing questions about the Republican’s policy positions, such as abortion and minimum wage. 
Fetterman’s campaign has made public a letter written by his physician after the candidate’s stroke. 
Dr. Ramesh Chandra, a cardiologist, wrote in the letter that he diagnosed Fetterman with a heart arrhythmia in 2017 and gave the Democrat a prescription along with instructions to return for follow-up visit. But Fetterman stopped taking his medication and didn’t return to the cardiologist until after the stroke, according to Chandra’s letter.  
Still, the candidate should be fine if he stays on his medication, exercises and follows a healthy diet, the cardiologist said.
“If he does what I’ve told him to do, and I do believe that he is taking his recovery and his health very seriously this time, he should be able to campaign and serve in the U.S. Senate without a problem,” Chandra wrote.
More:Fetterman relaunches Senate campaign in Erie before crowd of nearly 1,400 supporters
However, the stroke put Fetterman in the hospital and took him off the campaign trail for months. He underwent surgery to install a pacemaker and acknowledges he is still grappling with some auditory processing issues that have affected his communication. 
Though he’s returned to campaigning, his speech at events can be halting and he’s used closed captioning during the handful of media interviews he’s granted since the stroke.
But Fetterman’s campaign says those effects are not cognitive and that tests show the candidate’s brain function is normal for someone of his age, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. 
However, they have not released documentation of the cognitive tests, and Oz’s campaign argues it’s impossible to draw a conclusion without seeing these records. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an editorial arguing Fetterman should disclose the full results and authorize his doctors to speak with reporters, while the Washington Post’s editorial board called on the candidate to “release his medical records for independent review.”
The Post also urged Fetterman to participate in more than one debate with Oz, something the Democrat has so far been unwilling to do. Fetterman has only agreed to a single, 60-minute debate scheduled for Oct. 25, two weeks before the election. 
Oz has said that’s insufficient and is pushing for a second debate or to extend the Oct. 25 event by an additional 30 minutes.
The Republican candidate’s spokeswoman, Rachel Tripp, argued that if Fetterman is speaking to crowds of thousands, he’s either “lying about his health” or healthy enough to debate and simply dodging tough questions.
“Pennsylvanians deserve a leader who will tell them the truth about where they stand on crime, taxes, and the economy, and that’s Dr. Mehmet Oz,” she said.
It’s rare but not unheard of for Senate candidates to share their health information, said Dr. Jacob Appel, a professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai who has studied politicians’ medical issues. That type of disclosure is more common in presidential races because of the importance and demanding nature of the job, he said. 
But Appel said health is unpredictable, and a person’s current condition doesn’t tell you what lies ahead.
“There have been many prominent senators who seemed young and healthy, with long careers ahead of them … who died very quickly after being elected in their 50s and 60s,” Appel said. “So just because you seem healthier at one point doesn’t mean you’re going to outlive your opponent.” 
More:John Fetterman has reforged every political office he’s held. Now what?
Among them, he said, was Estes Kefauver, a Tennessee Democrat who suffered a heart attack while speaking on the Senate floor in 1963 and died a couple days later.
Appel also pointed to the senators who have continued to carry out their official duties despite strokes or other major health setbacks. 
One dramatic example, he said, is of former Sen. Clair Engle, who just weeks before his death cast a tie-breaking vote that enabled the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Suffering from a brain tumor and unable to speak, Engle pointed to his eye to signify his “aye” vote for the bill. 
It’s also important to keep in mind that medical records shared by politicians aren’t always complete or even accurate, Appel said, pointing to the 2015 letter in which a physician declared then-candidate Donald Trump would be the “healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” The doctor later admitted that Trump dictated the letter to him.  
Appel said there’s no evidence that Oz’s physician is tweaking the truth, but it’s generally worth remembering that politicians have a long history of successfully hiding their health problems from the public. 
Streiffer said records of a physician’s assessment put the provider’s reputation on the line and do have a higher degree of credibility than information shared by the campaign itself.
He also argues candidates do have an ethical obligation to disclose any conditions that might affect their ability to serve in office. But that standard covers a narrow set of medical records, he said, and wouldn’t include the run-of-the-mill health details that Oz volunteered last week. 
And he says it’s unreasonable to demand that candidates release their full health histories — and can even be counterproductive by distracting from more important policy issues. 
Appel takes that a step further.
“There are many good reasons to vote for candidates: whether you believe in their positions, their values,” he said. “But one poor choice to make when voting for candidates is based on how healthy you think they are. Because you’re probably wrong, and it will probably have no impact on their service.”


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