Americans Now Are Dying, Paying More Medical Bills Because Of Climate Change

There is growing evidence showing that the impacts of climate change are slowly changing the world, from larger forest fires, melting ice sheets to more deadly diseases. Now, Americans are starting to experience more effects because of extreme weather events. 

A new study, published in the journal GeoHealth, found that the country saw increased deaths, hospitalizations and emergency department visits in 2012 because of extreme heat, disease outbreaks, wildfires and hurricanes. Researchers said many Americans paid more for healthcare at the time.

The team from Columbia University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and nonprofit group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) analyzed data on extreme weather events and their impacts on the U.S. population. They focused on states that experienced the most significant impacts of climate change. 

The study covered Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey, extreme heat in Wisconsin, wildfires in Colorado and Washington, outbreaks of Lyme disease in Michigan and the spread of West Nile virus in Texas. Researchers also looked at medical records and data from earlier studies. 

Results showed that extreme weather events and diseases directly contributed to 20,568 hospitalizations, 17,857 emergency department visits and 917 deaths in a single year. Healthcare costs reached $10 billion.

The study only focused on data gathered in 2012 from 11 states. Researchers said it covered a small portion of the U.S. population and the number of people who died or were hospilized nationwide at the time could be much higher. 

“There is a real cost in terms of human health,” Wendy Max, study author and co-director of the Institute for Health & Aging at UCSF, said at a press conference. “Our study is the first to put a price tag on these costs, this is just the tip of the iceberg—we know this is an underestimate.”

Hurricane Sandy had the most significant impact among the studied extreme events in 2012. It left nearly 300 people dead and caused $3.1 billion in medical-related losses, Gizmodo reported Wednesday.

The study also highlighted that most vulnerable citizens felt greater impacts of climate change. Two-thirds of the healthcare costs were covered by Medicare and Medicaid, the government programs focused on the elderly and poor.

Researchers analyzed 2012 weather events because the most up-to-date health data only covered that year. Despite the lack of data from recent years, Vijay Limaye, lead author and NRDC researcher, said their study should serve “a wake-up call” for the public, doctors and policy makers.

Researchers hope to see more states creating climate adaptation plans, improved health surveillance systems and larger efforts to reduce the country’s carbon emissions.

Climate Change Climate change is expected to continue causing extreme weather events, which may put more lives at risk around the world. Pixabay