Howard Koh, M.D., M.P.H., the nation's highest ranking health professional, shared his passion for public health with a packed auditorium of SLU students, faculty and staff members on Monday.
"My father would have been very proud of me, and my mother would have believed it," he quipped after being introduced to the crowd of more than 250 who attended his talk at the health sciences education union.
|Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh, M.D., MPH, left, was invited by Dean Edwin Trevthan, M.D., MPH, to present a talk that was part of the School of Public Health's Lecture Series.|
As Assistant Secretary for Health -- "the ASH" --, Koh oversees the Office of the Surgeon General and Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. He is the nation's top advisor on public health issues to the Secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services. His talk was part of the School of Public Health's Lecture Series.
Koh leads an array of programs that run the gamut from preventing disease and promoting health to reducing health disparities and improving vaccine programs and tobacco control.
"I spent a lot of my career in tobacco control and to be called ‘the ASH' is a bit ironic," he said.
Koh's commitment to public health grew out of his interactions with patients. As a young physician, Koh frequently saw patients who didn't reach their full potential for health because they had conditions that could have been prevented. Some died of preventable causes.
"My intent was to cure each person put in front of me, to lay my magic hands on patient after patient and cure them with my tremendous knowledge," he said. "I saw so much suffering that could have been prevented. I said to myself, ‘there's got to be a better way than this' -- and that's the definition of public health."
He added that, "Sometimes an ounce of prevention is a ton of work."
Koh characterized public health as "standing for something bigger than yourself." Systemic health problems only can be solved when professionals from many fields including medicine, nursing, law, business and public health collaborate on a solution, he said.
"I want to thank everyone here for being part of health care during an incredible time for our nation. I can't think of a more exciting time for us to be part of this dialogue," Koh said. "We need each and every one of you more than ever before. Your journey -- our journey -- is not just a journey of your mind but also of your spirit and soul. It's intensely mission driven."
Koh, who was appointed by President Obama and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2009, talked about the impact that health care reform through the Affordable Care Act already is having on the health of the nation.
"It gives all patients the three things they want: good care, good insurance coverage so they can get good care, and they don't want to be patients in the first place."
He said he was proud of key individual provisions of the plan:
- Insurance companies no longer can refuse to offer coverage to children who have pre-existing health conditions, an expansion that will apply to adults in 2014.
- Insurance plans now are prohibited from putting lifetime limits on coverage, which will make medical bankruptcies an occurrence of the past.
- Children up to age 26 can stay on their parents' health insurance plans.
- New health plans and insurance policies now are required to cover many recommended screenings and vaccinations, which eliminates cost as a deterrent to some preventive care.
"Health reform is the law of the land," Koh said. "We are implementing it and we're going to make a difference in the health of our nation."
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