Disasters related to climate change cost the U.S. health care system $14 billion in the last decade, according to a new study co-authored by National Resources Defense Council scientists and published in the November issue of Health Affairs.
Although the insurance industry releases costs of property damage and insured losses following disasters, this study is the first to develop a uniform method for quantifying health costs for extreme weather and disease events.
"The health care costs never end up on the tab. But that doesn't mean they're not there," lead author Kim Knowlton said in a press statement. "Right now, there's a gaping hole in our understanding of the health-related costs of climate change. This report begins the work to fill that void. Only by having a clear sense of health impacts and their costs can we work to reduce them."
The study focuses on six categories of U.S. disasters that occurred from 2002 to 2009, including Florida hurricanes, North Dakota floods, California heat waves and wildfires, nationwide ozone air pollution, and Louisiana West Nile virus outbreaks.
Researchers estimated the group of events resulted in more than 760,000 encounters with the health care system, including 1,689 premature deaths, 8,992 hospitalizations, 21,113 emergency room visits and 734,398 outpatient visits.
Thirteen states include public health measures in their climate change adaptation plans. With a better understanding of the economic impacts and health risks, researchers say government agencies and other organizations can work together to plan how to save lives and money.
U.S. House Rep. Lois Capps, a California Democrat, recently announced a bill proposal to help health professionals prepare for protecting the public's health from climate change.