Actuarial Firm Projects McCain, Obama Healthy for Eight Years as President

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If the U.S. presidency were an insurance policy, both John McCain and Barack Obama would be cleared for coverage.

Obama has a history of smoking, and McCain is 72 years old with a history of skin cancer. But neither candidate is a bad bet to live through two terms as president of the United States, according to a statistical analysis performed by an actuarial firm.

The analysis is similar to those used by insurance companies to determine the longevity, health and well-being of the people they insure.

According to John M. Bragg & Associates Inc., an Atlanta-based actuarial firm, McCain has 8.4 healthy years ahead of him, making him eligible, albeit barely, to serve two terms as the country’s commander-in-chief.

And Obama can look forward to more than two decades — 21.9 years to be exact — of healthy living.

Healthy years differ from life expectancy in that they refer to the number of years a person will live without requiring assisted living or suffer a debilitating illness such as Alzheimer’s disease, not to the average number of years a person has left to live.

Bragg & Associates decided to compute the candidates’ healthy years as a "public service" to voters. The company has not been contracted by either candidate, nor is it endorsing one.

“Health expectancy is one of our specialties,” owner John Bragg told “We’ve been doing this for more than 20 years, and we were interested in knowing whether the two candidates would be healthy for two terms. We had access through their Web sites to review their health situations. So we took a look.”

The Business of Calculating Health

Actuaries specialize in risk. Using lifestyle and health information, they calculate a person’s risk of injury, sickness, disability and death.

To calculate the candidates’ healthy years, Jim Brooks, a senior actuary at Bragg & Associates, reviewed the candidates’ publicly available health records. Both candidates received a clean bill of health from their physicians earlier this year.

Among the pros and cons used to calculate McCain’s longevity were his four bouts with melanoma — the deadliest type of skin cancer — as well as his degenerative arthritis, still-active 97-year-old mother and his treadmill EKG, which is in line with someone 10 years younger.

“McCain is a former smoker and he’s been quit for over 10 years, so when you’ve been quit for that long, you start looking like the profile of a nonsmoker,” Brooks said. “He’s in excellent overall health, but we took two things into consideration: the degenerative arthritis that he has as a result of his POW injuries and that fact that he remains at risk for melanoma.”

Brooks then compared McCain’s health to the average mortality rate for nonsmoking males age 72 or older with arthritis and cancer to calculate his projected healthy years.

“It’s our opinion that he has at least 8.4 healthy years ahead of him,” he said. “But he’s super-healthy, so we think he’ll beat that. We can’t predict the future. All we can do is give an indicator. And even people who have a similar profile to McCain and are in a less healthy end of the spectrum sometimes beat that number.”

To gauge Obama’s health, Brooks took into account that he is also in extremely good health, with low cholesterol, triglyceride and blood pressure levels, as well as a very low body fat percentage.

On the downside, however, Obama is considered a smoker, even though he has recently quit.

“He is a moderate smoker, smoking somewhere between one-third to one-half of a pack a day,” Brooks said. “He has said he’s trying to quit and even told a reporter that he has quit, but we need to see something noted in his medical records before we can consider that.”

Bragg noted that in actuarial terms a person has to be smoke-free for at least a year before they can officially be classified as nonsmoking.

Obama’s medical records also noted some mild respiratory problems and a family history of cancer on his mother’s side. But Brooks said neither is expected to substantially impact his longevity.

“Obama is also super healthy, he has a cholesterol level and blood pressure that’s even better than some nonsmokers,” he said.

What the Numbers Mean

Brooks said that if the public takes anything away from the firm’s calculations, it’s that both candidates are healthy enough to serve as president.

Although the numbers show that Obama has more than double the number of healthy years ahead of him than McCain does, Brooks said that has more to do with age than with health.

Brooks also noted that the healthy-year calculations are misleading in that they put Obama at about age 69 when his health starts to fail and McCain at better than 80 years old.

“It has less to do with health and more with survival of the fittest,” Brooks said. “You get more credit the longer you live. McCain already has 25 years on Obama, so Obama still has to survive the next 25 years before he can get credit for them.”