2010 March 9: DC: Office of Management & Budget: Regulatory Lapses (in air pollution standards)Inflate Health Care Costs, Reports Find

2010 March 9: DC: Office of Management & Budget: Regulatory Lapses (in air pollution standards)Inflate Health Care Costs, Reports Find

Posted on March 9, 2010

  Hazards that regulators keep tabs on, such as air pollution, can increase medical costs if the public is not adequately protected.
In another study released March 2, the Rand Corporation determined that air pollution can have a significant impact on health care and health insurance industries, particularly when air pollution exceeds levels deemed safe by regulators.
"Meeting federal clean air standards would have prevented an estimated 29,808 hospital admissions and ER [emergency room] visits throughout California over 2005-2007," the report says. The admissions cost almost $200 million, leading Rand to conclude that "improved air quality would have reduced total spending on hospital care by $193,100,184 in total."
Rand studied air pollution and hospital admissions trends in California from 2005-2007. The report links air pollution levels that exceeded federal standards to hospital admissions for problems such as asthma attacks, pneumonia, and bronchitis. The admissions included in the report are attributable to violations of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) standards for particulate matter and ozone. The report acknowledges that exposure to particulate matter and ozone can also lead to heart attacks and premature mortality, but those health endpoints were not included in the study.
The majority of air pollution’s health effects are indirectly paid for by taxpayers, the report emphasizes. Medicare covered more than $100 million of the hospital care costs included in the report, and government-provided health care for low-income individuals (Medicaid at the federal level and Medi-Cal in California) covered more than $27 million, Rand said. Private insurers spent almost $56 million, according to the report.
Like the report on the costs of foodborne illness, the Rand report adds yet another dimension to the debate over health care policy and President Obama’s desire to reform the system. "Dirty air is the forgotten topic when it comes to health care reform," Clean Air Watch’s Frank O’Donnell told the EPA in 2009.
While the health care costs associated with regulatory failures are likely a small fraction of the more than $2 trillion spent on health care in the U.S., they remain significant. Preventable workplace injuries and illnesses, injuries and illnesses associated with consumer products, automobile crashes, and water quality degradation, to name a few, can lead to both short-term and long-term health care costs.
Image in teaser by flickr user Truthout.org, used under a Creative Commons license
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