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Talk of pot, cancer research and lost Super Bowls as Buffalo meets Denver at health conference

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

The Affordable Care Act, the challenges of aging, and legalized marijuana have been among the topics of interest this week in downtown Denver, where more than 350 health journalists have 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 have been among subjects of the four-day conference, which runs through Sunday.

Stephen T. Watson, one of my colleagues at The News, and I each received fellowships to attend the conference, which is devoted to experts sharing the latest thinking and resources available to health journalists as they try to cut through the complexities for readers to give them information they can use in making the best health care choices possible.

Steve covers the business of health care and I focus on the personal and community sides. There has been plenty here to chew on during a gathering that has contained much more light than heat – even when it comes to pot.

Among the more illuminating information I’ve heard:

  • Lewis W. Sullivan, Health and Human Services commissioner during the President George H.W. Bush administration, told reporters during the conference kickoff Thursday night that the individual mandate and creation of medical 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 eliminate all of what some call Obamacare, rather than work to improve it, boils down to “pure politics.”
  • Dr. Carl Morrison, executive director of the Center for Personalized Medicine at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, was among panelists this morning at a talk entitled, “Getting Personal: The medical and ethical challenges of using genetic information.” Morrison and other panelists talked about the early work cancer and other 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 to see 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.
  • Craft brewer-turned-Denver mayor-turned-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper also spoke during the conference kickoff. He addressed gun control in the state in the wake of the 2012 theater shootings in Aurora; maintained the Affordable Care Act is taking root in the state with help from Republicans; and told reporters and editors he hasn’t inhaled since marijuana possession and use was legalized in the state in January. The Democratic mayor – who opposed the referendum that legalized the drug, and which passed last November with 55-percent voter approval – said Colorado now looks to accept the new reality on the ground, which you’ll hear more about in the coming weeks in this blog and The Buffalo News. “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 are among the issues still up in the air, he said.
  • Thursday night, Steve and I also ended up at the same small table during cocktail hour with Greg Moore, editor of the Denver Post. We talked about the paper’s pot coverage (see part of its online effort here) and how it has breathed more life into the business and real estate sector. We also commiserated about stinging Super Bowl losses. We told him we felt his pain of the Broncos’ Super Bowl blowout to the Seattle Seahawks several weeks ago by a score of 43-8. He also expressed his condolences over the loss this past week of Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr.

In the coming weeks, Steve and I will look to localize much of the health information we’re learning in Denver – and we’ll try not to think very hard on those lost Super Bowls.

Email: refresh@buffnews.com

Twitter: @BNrefresh

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About The Refresh Buffalo Blog

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered various topics in his quarter-century as a journalist in South Florida, Syracuse and Buffalo. He is aiming to pass along what he is learning these days about health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

@BNRefresh | refresh@buffnews.com

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