The Affordable Care Act, the challenges of aging and legalized marijuana were among topics of interest last week in downtown Denver, where more than 350 health journalists gathered for the annual Association of Health Care Journalists conference. Obesity, the veracity of medical studies and the availability of healthy foods across all corners of the country also were among the subjects of the four-day conference.
Buffalo News colleague Stephen T. Watson and I each received fellowships to attend the conference, in which experts shared the latest thinking and resources available to health journalists as they try to cut through complexities to help readers make informed health care choices.
There was plenty to chew on in panel discussions that contained much more light than heat – even when it came to pot. Among the “high” points:
• Lewis W. Sullivan, Health and Human Services commissioner in the President George H.W. Bush administration, told reporters that the individual mandate and creation of health teams to provide more comprehensive patient care were contained in a plan he and Bush almost laid out for Congress in 1991. He called efforts to repeal Obamacare, rather than improve it, “pure politics.”
• Dr. Carl Morrison, executive director of the Center for Personalized Medicine at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, was among panelists who talked about the early work researchers are doing to single out gene variances that can lead to disease, in efforts to more efficiently target treatment. The work is difficult, lacks the specificity many scientists would like and remains costly, Morrison said, and health insurers and government health payers still haven’t come aboard to help cover the cost of this diagnostic tool. As a result, “This is still a rich man’s game,” the Buffalo cancer specialist said.
• Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper told reporters he hasn’t “inhaled” since marijuana legalization in his state in January. The Democratic governor, who opposed the referendum that allows the retail sale, use and possession of the drug – which passed last November with 55 percent voter approval – said Colorado now looks to accept the new reality on the ground. “We have no idea what the unintended consequences will be,” said Hickenlooper, who urged other states to let Colorado get some of the details right before rushing into similar legalization efforts. More scientific testing regarding the benefits of marijuana, its best uses and how the drug impacts teens and young adults is needed, he said.
Watson and I also got the chance to talk with Greg Moore, a Cleveland native and editor of the Denver Post, about the paper’s pot coverage (see thecannabist.co) and stinging Super Bowl losses.
In the coming months, we look to localize much of the health information we gathered in Denver – and try not to think very hard on lost Super Bowls.