U.S. health official touts Obamacare

Howard Koh visits UB to discuss its positive impact

On November 18, 2012

  • Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Howard Koh came to UB on Friday to discuss the impact of Obamacare on students and American as a whole. Rebecca Bratek /// The Spectrum

On the heels of the presidential election, one of the most heated issues of the campaign season took center stage for UB's School of Public Health and Health Professions.

On Nov. 16, 200-plus students and faculty packed Kapoor Hall to hear Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Howard Koh discuss benefits of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), otherwise known as Obamacare, and its positive impact on young people.

Koh was nominated by President Barack Obama as assistant secretary in 2009. Koh called the PPACA "the beginning of a new era of public health," which will drastically improve the quality of healthcare in the United States.

"The Promise of the [PPACA] is better care, better insurance, and a system of prevention in healthcare that is truly transformative," Koh said.

Obamacare is a polarizing issue. Its "individual mandate," which will force citizens to buy health insurance beginning in 2014, was challenged in the Supreme Court in June 2012 and upheld by one vote.

Many Republican politicians, including former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, are fighting to repeal the bill because of its potential economic impact and expansion of government authority.

Romney said Obamacare is a "job killer" after the Supreme Court upheld the law. He said it "puts the government between you and your doctor."

But according to Koh, the benefits of the PPACA for public health outweigh the potential downside.

Koh said the PPACA's provision that allows children to stay on parents' health insurance until the age of 26 allowed 3 million otherwise uninsured young people elligible to receive health insurance. Koh said the PPACA also made preventative care accessible to an additional 54 million people.

Koh claims the law also restricted the power of health insurance companies to cut care for its policy holders.

"A person who has insurance coverage is a healthier person," Koh said. "[The PPACA] prohibits insurance companies from putting a dollar limit on future care. We don't want people sick with devastating illnesses to go bankrupt when they're fighting to stay alive."

Student reaction to the PPACA has been largely supportive, especially among medical students. A recent study by a scientific journal indicated over 80 percent of medical students approve of the law.

But some question whether young people's view of the law is too short-sighted. Tom DeMartinis, a 2012 UB graduate with a degree in political science, said because college kids are getting insurance they support the PPACA, but don't know what its future effects will be.

"It's hypocritical of me to criticize the healthcare law since I'm saving thousands of dollars by staying on my parent's health insurance," DeMartinis said. "That being said, I don't think that now is the time to expand the scope of the American government. [The United States is] coming out of a recession and two wars, and we don't know the impact healthcare is going to have."

Koh acknowledged the PPACA is percepted to be too complex in trying to create a comprehensive reform of healthcare; he pointed to results that some of its policies have already had in previous states.

States that have already adopted the Medicaid expansion have seen a 6 percent drop in mortality rates, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

In order to bring more focus to preventative care, Koh said a more comprehensive approach to healthcare is needed, one which places more significance on non-biological health.

"The future model of healthcare is a team-based approach," Koh said. "Health starts where people live, labor, learn, play and pray. There are all these factors that impact our health which have nothing to do with biology or disease."

A particular goal of the department of health is to discourage tobacco use, which Koh said is the leading cause of preventative deaths in the world today. 

In his upcoming years, Koh will focus on expanding the department's anti-tobacco efforts, including continuing an ad campaign featuring ex-smokers talking about the impact that smoking-related diseases had on their life.

"[Tobacco use] will cause one billion deaths this century," Koh said. "For every one person that dies from smoking there are two younger smokers that replace them. We want to keep this front of the American people."

Koh focused on the PPACA policies to expand preventative healthcare, a service which he said will be good both for the physical and financial health of the country.

"We want to see prevention be as valued and cherished as treatment," Koh said. "We're hopeful that in the long run prevention will bring [healthcare] costs down."

Koh said as a resident of the United States, he has seen the limits of health treatment, and people die preventable deaths. He believes Obamacare is key to ridding America of such restrictions.


Email: news@ubspectrum.com

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