Through strength in numbers, America can fight disease, Howard Koh ’73 MED ’77 said at a talk at Yale-New Haven Hospital on Wednesday.
Koh, the assistant secretary for health, gave the 2011 Herbert Goldenring Memorial Lecture in the Fitkin Amphitheater on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. In front of an audience of about 150 YNHH staff and medical students, Koh outlined some provisions and purposes of the bill and shared college stories with some of his old classmates and advisors who were in attendance.
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“Kierkegaard said that one can only understand one’s life in reverse,” Koh said. “When I come back to Yale, I think about how important this community has been to me and my family.”
John Goldering, whose father the annual lecture is named after, introduced Koh as “the nation’s public health leader.” As Assistant Secretary for Health, Koh runs the Office of Public Health and the Office of the Surgeon General as well as various programs that combat public health issues such as obesity and HIV/AIDS.
Koh’s 45-minute lecture described the major sections of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which is over 2,000 pages long. The three goals of the bill, Koh said, are to expand medical coverage to uninsured citizens, improve the health of the American population, and drive costs down. Koh highlighted the bill’s anti-tobacco and anti-obesity measures because of his experience in those areas.
Fresh out of the Yale School of Medicine, Koh joined anti-tobacco organizations, including the Massachussetts Coalition for a Healthy Future, he said.
“In Washington, they abbreviate my position as ASH, which is what they call me. Given my history, it’s a bit ironic to be called ASH,” Koh said.
Koh also forecasted that by 2014, when most of the bill’s provisions will have taken effect, the access to and quality of American health care will improve. This is a government prerogative, Koh said, because of the strong link between the health of the individual and of the general public.
“The health of the individual is almost inseparable from the health of the community,” Koh said. “And the health of our communities determines the health of the country.”
Sean Lang, a pediatric cardiology fellow, praised Koh for articulating the connection between pediatrics and public health. In particular, he said Koh explained the way the work of individual pediatricians affects entire populations very well.
Professor and Associate Chair of Pediatrics at the School of Medicine Alan Friedman said he agreed with Koh’s ideas about the relationship between personal health and public health.
“Here at [Yale-New Haven Hospital], we admit everyone regardless of the status of their coverage,” Friedman said. “Pediatrics depend heavily on community, and Dr. Koh spoke to that point beautifully.”
During his time as a Yale undergraduate, Koh was president of the Yale Glee Club.