Air pollution in Central and Southern California cost area hospitals $193 million from 2005 to 2007, according to a study by Rand Corp. The study documented 29,808 emergency room visits and hospital admissions in the South Coast Air Basin and the San Joaquin Valley for problems related to pollution. Both air basins are the worst in the U.S. Three-quarters of the health problems analyzed stemmed from high levels of fine particulate pollution (PM2.5). The other one-quarter of health problems analyzed stemmed from ozone, the main ingredient in smog. Ozone is created by noxious fumes from automobiles and factories.
The study stated that annual savings from meeting state and federal air standards “would be sufficient to pay for pediatric influenza vaccinations for 85% of California’s under-15 population.” Medicare spent $103,600,000 on air pollution–related hospital care during 2005–2007, according to the study. Medicaid, Medi-Cal in California, spent $27,292,199, while private health insurers spent about $55,879,780. If state clean air standards had been met, hospital spending would have been $204 million less. Spending on hospital admissions would have decreased by $27,000,000 million if federal clean air standards had been met.
The study also looked at the impact of air pollution on five specific hospitals in the South Coast Air Basin, the San Joaquin Valley, and the Sacramento area:
- Riverside Community Hospital (South Coast Air Basin): 329 hospital admissions and emergency room visits would have been prevented if federal standards for PM2.5 and ozone been met during 2005 to 2007. Overall spending would have been reduced by $2,015,880.
- St. Agnes Medical Center (Fresno): 384 hospital admissions and emergency room visits would have been prevented, and $2,976,936 saved.
- St. Francis Medical Center (Lynnwood, south of Los Angeles): 295 hospital admissions and emergency room visits would have been prevented, and $1,220,595 saved.
- Stanford University Hospital: 30 hospital admissions and emergency room visits would have been prevented, and $534,855 saved.
- UC Davis Medical Center (Sacramento): 182 hospital admissions and emergency room visits would have been prevented, and $1,882,412 saved.
“It shows that the major stakeholders in the California health care system are paying millions and millions of dollars due to the failure to meet federal clean air standards,” said John Romley, lead author of the study and an economist at Rand. Romley added, “These costs may not be the largest problem caused by dirty air, but our study provides more evidence about the impact that air pollution has on the state’s economy.”
“The people who espouse the idea that we should stop working on anything involving regulations of fuel because doing so would cost money should think about the cost of not doing anything,” said Mary Nichols, chairperson of the California Air Resources Board. “The fact that we’re paying for all these hospital and emergency room visits is sobering.”