Expo shines light on Affordable Care Act

Garth Graham speaks about the Affordable Care Act during the men's health exposition at Springhill Baptist Church on Saturday.

Elizabeth Hamilton/Gainesville Guardian
Published: Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 6:46 p.m.

Poor people will be adversely impacted if the Affordable Care Act is not successful, while basically nobody will be adversely impacted if it is successful, Dr. Garth Graham told approximately 50 men during his presentation at the 4th annual Men's Health and ManPower Expo sponsored by the University of Florida Cancer Center.

In his role as president of the Aetna Foundation, Graham is responsible for the foundation's philanthropic work, including its grant-making strategies to improve the health of people from underserved communities and increase their access to high-quality health care. Speaking at the expo held Saturday at Springhill Baptist Church, Graham gave an overview of the Affordable Care Act that partially went into effect on Tuesday, emphasizing that the law will not be successful if healthy young people decide not to buy health insurance.

"If it doesn't work, it means bad things for everybody," said Graham, formerly assistant dean of health policy and chief of the Health Services Research section at the UF College of Medicine. Besides the presentation by Graham, there also were presentations by Dr. Folakemi Odedina, PhD., organizer of the event and associate director of the University of Florida Health Cancer Center, and Cathy Cook, a representative from Tobacco Free Florida, who spoke about the ills of smoking.

Graham's presentation included a brief discussion about the history of health care reform and what will happen during the rolling out of the Affordable Care Act. He said the U.S. government has been grappling with health care reform since President Theodore Roosevelt was in office 100 years ago. He also said the opposition to the Affordable Care Act is the same as it was in 1965 when President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law. Medicare is a health insurance program for elderly Americans and Medicaid provides health care services to those receiving welfare benefits, low-income children deprived of parental support and their caretaker relatives and the disabled.

Graham said he expects things to be rough during the first year of the law because rarely do government programs run smoothly in the beginning, but he said things will begin to run smoother and opposition to the law will lessen when Obama is out of office. He predicted sentiments about the law will change over time just like they did when Medicare and Medicaid were enacted.

Describing how the poor will be impacted if the law is not successful, Graham said funding to hospitals who treat poor people was slashed in order to help pay for the Affordable Care Act. He said that means if the Affordable Care Act is not successful, poor people are not going to get the care they did in the past because hospitals will not be reimbursed for their costs by the government like in the past.

During her presentation, Odedina said the impact of the slash in funding is being felt now. She said the expo has offered free prostate screenings in the past, but did not this year because UF Health does not have the money to treat people who are found to have prostate cancer at UF sponsored screenings.

"It breaks my heart to tell people we can't do prostate screenings," Odedina said.

Odedina, whose research program focuses on the predictors of health disparities and cost-effective, community-based behavioral interventions to improve the health of black men, said the lack of prostate screenings will be very harmful to black men who already have a high prostate cancer mortality rate.

She said recent recommendations by some in the medical profession calling for less screenings are flawed because they claim screenings can sometimes lead to over treatment.

"The problem is not over screening, it is over treatment," Odedina said.

She also said most prostate cancer screening studies do not have a good enough representative sample of black, poor and rural white men in them to accurately determine the impact of prostate cancer screenings on those populations.

She said black men should begin getting prostate screenings yearly at age 40. Odedina asked Braxton Linton of Gainesville, a prostate cancer survivor, to share his story. Linton said he received a prostate screening at a health fair and was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He said getting that screening saved his life.

"I can tell you that early detection to prostate cancer is the key," Linton said. "A couple of my high school friends are dead because they didn't get the screening."

Cook from Tobacco Free Florida said 443,000 Americans die from smoke annually, including second hand smoke, and she said cigarette smoke causes one in five deaths in the U.S. annually. However, she said people who quit smoking add an average of 13 years to their lives, adding that though it can be done, kicking the nicotine habit is no easy chore.

"Some people find quitting cigarettes is harder than quitting a heroin or methamphetamine addiction," Cook said.

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