URI Honors Colloquium to examine politics, money influencing health care reform

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KINGSTON, R.I. – August 23, 2012 – The 50th annual fall honors colloquium at the University of Rhode Island will examine the political and economic forces that influence the health care system in the United States and abroad.

The semester-long lecture series, called “Health Care Change? Health, Politics and Money,” will feature some of the world’s most prominent voices, including the president of Doctor’s Without Borders, the administrator of the federal Health Resources & Services Administration, and the medical director of the international charity Partners in Health. Local health care leaders, including Rhode Island First Lady Stephanie Chafee and Michael Fine, director of the R.I. Department of Health, will also be featured.

These and other speakers will address such topics as the myths and realities of the Affordable Care Act, how to combat obesity through education and advocacy, strategies for providing equitable care and access to preventive services, and how non-profit groups are fighting to address the medical needs of the world’s poor.

“Health care is an incredibly polarizing topic. We have costs spiraling out of control, a deadlocked Congress, and a Supreme Court decision that will remain divisive,” said Jef Bratberg, URI professor of pharmacy and co-coordinator of the colloquium, along with Professors Roger LeBrun, Mary Cloud and Shahla Yekta. “There are so many misconceptions about health care reform, and we hope that the colloquium will make our audience better informed.”

“The U.S. ranks 37th in the world for health care, yet we spend the most, by far, of any nation. And we’re not getting results,” said LeBrun. “Why does $2,000 pay for the same outcomes in Minnesota that cost $6,000 in Georgia? How can we make health care an industry that allows the economy to grow without these disparities?”

The lecture series begins on Tuesday, Sept. 11, with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder, who will discuss his book Mountains Beyond Mountains, about Paul Farmer, a physician who is single-mindedly bent on improving the health of some of the poorest people on the planet who suffer from tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

The entire URI freshman class will read Kidder’s book prior to the beginning of the semester through the University’s Common Reading Program.

All the lectures in the Honors Colloquium series begin at 7:30 p.m. in Edwards Auditorium on the URI Kingston campus. They are free and open to the public.

Other speakers in the series are Mary Wakefield, administrator of the Health Resources & Services Administration (Sept. 18); Robert Tosatto, director of the Office of the Civilian Volunteer Medical Reserve Corps (Sept. 25); Joia Mukherjee, medical director of Partners in Health (Oct. 2); Gregory Poland, director of the vaccine research group at the Mayo Clinic (Oct. 9); and Roberta Friedman, director of public policy at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University (Oct. 23).

Also speaking will be Jonathan Gruber, director of the health care program at the National Bureau of Economic Research (Oct. 30); Stephanie Chafee, co-founder of the Rhode Island Free Clinic (Nov. 13); Michael Fine, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health (Nov. 27); and Unni Karanukara, international president of Doctors Without Borders (Dec. 10).

In addition, a panel of URI alumni, including Marie Ghazal, chief executive officer of the Rhode Island Free Clinic, Keith Lewis, chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at Boston Medical Center, and family physician Joline Macfarlan, will share their insights on the challenges and rewards of a career in health care on Oct. 16.

On Dec. 4, a musical comedy about health care in America, called Damaged Care, will examine such issues as the eroding doctor-patient relationship, de-personalization of medical services, and inadequate emphasis on disease prevention. The play is written and performed by physicians Greg LaGana and Barry Levy.

The Colloquium has also partnered with the URI Department of Theatre to present the play Marvin’s Room, a dark comedy that deals with family care and end of life issues, Oct. 11-14 and 18-21. Following the Oct. 14th performance, a panel of experts will engage the audience on the themes addressed in the play.

In addition to the weekly events, the students enrolled in the course aligned to the Honors Colloquium will be encouraged to become health care advocates.

“We’re assigning students to advocate for things that will have a health impact on society. We want them to learn that politics affects health care and their vote counts,” said Bratberg.

“Health care promotion and prevention is a big theme of the Colloquium, and that’s also a big part of the Affordable Care Act,” said Cloud. “So we’ll have the students in the honors class be proactive about health promotion by becoming involved with Shape Up Rhode Island and Slow Food Rhode Island and advocating for exercise and healthy eating.”

The class will recruit teams of students from across campus to compete to walk the most steps, consume the most servings of fruits and vegetables, and achieve a healthy balance of exercise and uninterrupted sleep.

“Our objective is that personal health will be a visible, vibrant goal for everyone on campus,” said Cloud.

All but the first lecture will be streamed live at www.uri.edu/hc, where the complete schedule of events is also listed. For additional information about the URI Honors Colloquium, contact Deborah Gardiner at debg@uri.edu or 401-874-2381.

The major sponsor of the Honors Colloquium is the URI Honors Program, with sustaining sponsors including the URI Office of the President, Office of the Provost, the Mark and Donna Ross Honors Colloquium Humanities Endowment, and the Thomas Silvia and Shannon Chandley Honors Colloquium Endowment. Leadership sponsors include the College of the Environment and Life Sciences, the College of Pharmacy, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Multicultural Center, and the Department of Communications and Marketing. Also sponsoring the Honors Colloquium are Cox Communications, the College of Business Administration, Department of Publications and Creative Services, College of Engineering, College of Nursing, College of Human Sciences and Services, Division of Administration and Finance, Division of Student Life, and Department of Communications Studies of the Harrington School of Communication & Media.