April 12, 2010

'Classroom' tackles U.S. health care

Classroom on the Green looked at "who pays how much, for what, and for whom?" and other health care issues.

In 1962, a Seattle doctor opened a hospital to treat patients with chronic renal failure using the life-saving treatment he had developed.

But the grant that funded the world’s first community dialysis unit only paid for three beds. The hospital created a panel to pick the few patients who would benefit from the extraordinary but expensive new technology.

“Someone had to decide which patients would get long-term dialysis and live — and who wouldn’t, and die,” said Rear Admiral Steven Solomon, director of the Coordinating Center for Health Information and Service at the Centers for Disease Control, speaking at the Classroom on the Green April 6.

About 75 students, faculty and community members attended the Student Government Association’s annual event, which this year focused on health care and its future in America. After Solomon’s keynote address, a panel discussion brought together experts in public health and health regulations.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed gave the welcoming remarks. He announced a “fresh foods initiative” and said Atlanta would join First Lady Michelle Obama’s fight against childhood obesity. He vowed that improved health care for local residents will be “vital and personal to me.

“This is your generation’s and my generation’s moment,” Reed said.

Though much has changed in the last 50 years, health care in America is still fraught with the same moral dilemma of the 1960s: “Who pays how much, for what, and for whom?” Solomon said.

Certain tools to prevent chronic conditions, like cancer screenings, reach half the patients who could benefit from them, he said.

But the landmark health care reform bill signed by President Barack Obama should lead to greater fairness in access and a stronger emphasis on preventive health, he said.

“Fifty years ago, seven people sat in a room in Seattle and decided who would get medical treatment,” Solomon said. “I don’t think that’s ever going to happen again in this country. But the health system…needs active engagement from everyone.”

In the audience, Melissa Sacks, who works in the Office of Financial Aid, said Solomon’s remarks made her hopeful that non-traditional therapies such as acupuncture would get greater acceptance, and insurance companies would cover them.

Michael Huey, executive director of Student Health and Counseling Services, also felt optimistic.

“A great country has to have a great health care system,” he said. “Something has started, and that’s very encouraging.”

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