New Study Links Climate Change to Higher Medical Costs

by Frances Beinecke, cross posted from NRDC’s Switchboard

When I speak to lawmakers and business leaders about the costs of climate change, they tend to think in terms of damaged property and lost agricultural revenue. Certainly the fires in Texas and the flooding from Vermont to Virginia have brought home the staggering costs associated with rebuilding homes and replanting crops. But one cost of extreme weather has gone nearly unreported: health care.

In a groundbreaking study published recently in Health Affairs, a group of NRDC scientists and university economists looked at six climate-change-related events that happened in the United States in the last decade.

These extreme events accounted for more than $14 billion in health-related care costs and more than 760,000 interactions with the health care system.

As climate change intensifies, these medical bills will rise dramatically.

Today a report by the world’s leading body of climate scientists concluded that global warming is causing more extreme weather events and they will become even more frequent in the decades ahead.

That means greater health threats and higher medical costs.

We are already seeing the toll these events take. Extreme weather routinely sends people to emergency rooms with injuries, respiratory illness, and other life-threatening conditions.

In a blistering heat wave that hit California in 2006, 655 people’s deaths, 1,620 hospitalizations, and more than 16,000 excess emergency room visits resulted in nearly $5.4 billion dollars in costs, according to the new study.

When the Red River flooded in North Dakota in 2009, the news media covered the damage done to homes and communities. But few realized that the two deaths, 263 emergency room visits, and an estimated 3,000 outpatient visits associated with the flood generated more than $20 million in health-related costs.

And across the United States in 2002, high temperatures increased the amount of smog pollution in the air, exposing nearly 288 million Americans to smog levels higher than those deemed safe for public health.  This extra pollution hastened the death of 795 people, caused 4,150 hospitalizations, and prompted more than 365,000 outpatient visits. This smog-related medical care came at cost of $6.5 billion.

If we want to shield our families from these health hazards and stop the escalation in medical costs, America must set limits on global warming pollution.

President Obama has made an impressive start. The clean car standards he announced in July will cut carbon emissions from vehicles in half and save Americans $80 billion a year at the pump. But cars and trucks are only one piece in the puzzle.

Power plants account for 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, yet there is no limit on how much global warming pollution these plants can release. The Obama administration is expected to set limits on carbon pollution on plants. Together with the clean car standards, these new safeguards would cover two-thirds of the nation’s global warming pollution.

This is the kind of progress we must make if we want to save money and lives in the decades ahead.

Frances Beinecke is the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. This post was originally published at NRDC’s Switchboard blog.

7 Responses to New Study Links Climate Change to Higher Medical Costs

  1. Leif says:

    ~75% of all bankruptcy are because of health care costs not covered by their health insurance. This is happening as a very large share of our health care premiums pay for inflated privet sector administration costs, and salaries and golden parachutes for ruthless CEOs.

    Must see Elizabeth Warren video:

    Yet another method to privatize profits and socialize costs. Another failure of President Obama to utilize the bully pulpit, educate the population and STAND for “We the People.” Another reason my support for him and many of the Democrats will not be forth-coming this election cycle.

  2. Colorado Bob says:

    The Ohio Insurance Institute reported that between May 20-26 residents across the state had insured losses of more than $322 million due to large hail and tornado-like activity………… Randy Warren, who lives in Sugarcreek Twp., recalled large hail coming in through his double-paned windows and shooting across the dining room on May 25.

    “It was coming at 70 and 80 miles per hour, and blowing sideways,” he said. “I’ve lived in the Dayton area my whole life, and I’ve never seen hail like that.”

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I’ve just been reading an interesting article by Naomi Klein illustrating how the brutal repression of the OWS protesters must have been organised and co-ordinated by the White House. She calls it the first shot in a civil war, but I believe that is wrong. All capitalist states are in a constant state of civil war based on class, with just one side, the money power, firing the shots. These are mostly psychological, with lifelong brainwashing by the MSM, advertising and the education apparatus ensuring quiescence amongst the rabble. Where the mob grow restless, say after generations of seeing half their children die needlessly, the Guatemala, El Salvador or Colombia solutions are quickly mobilised. Where the rabble seize power, as in the old USSR or China today, generations of effort, ceaseless aggression and subversion, ensue, always, these days, threatening nuclear annihilation. Klein reckons the OWS crossed ‘the line’ when they mentioned the Congress’ special methods for cashing in while in power.

  4. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    No doubt Climate Change has effect on health care.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  5. prokaryotes says:

    CO2 climate sensitivity ‘overestimated’?

    Lead author Andreas Schmittner from Oregon State University, US, explained that by looking at surface temperatures during the most recent ice age – 21,000 years ago – when humans were having no impact on global temperatures, he, and his colleagues show that this period was not as cold as previous estimates suggest.

    “This implies that the effect of CO2 on climate is less than previously thought,” he explained.

    Climatologist Andrey Ganopolski, from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany, went further and said that he would not make such a strong conclusion based on this data.

    “The results of this paper are the result of the analysis of [a] cold climate during the glacial maximum (the most recent ice age),” he told BBC News.

    “There is evidence the relationship between CO2 and surface temperatures is likely to be different [during] very cold periods than warmer.”

    Scientists, he said, would therefore prefer to analyse periods of the Earth’s history that are much warmer than now when making their projections about future temperatures.

    Duh…. the last cpld snap to conclude about CS is more than a stretch! Although current CS estimates (3C) are maybe even an underestimation!

    And great timing for this “study” to appear and a bit lame of the BBC to not make it more clear that this study is rather weak!

  6. prokaryotes says:

    TIL that studies have shown that sarcasm enhances one’s problem-solving ability. An inability to understand it can be an early warning sign of brain disease.

  7. Leif says:

    The main problem is that by looking back toward the cold era is that most of the other greenhouse forcing, i.e. methane, dust, even darken ground and ice would have already have frozen out or be reflecting sunlight. It would appear to me to be a no brainer that one would have to start to factor additional forcing into the equation looking forward into the warming effects of CO2. In fact there is significant evidence that much of augmenting forcing is already not factored into CO2 projections as is. The variables quickly become too hard to predict with accuracy, though surely positive, and are thus discounted.