Health care costs of six climate change-related disasters over a a period from 2002 to 2009 surpassed $14 billion in the United States, according to a new study from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health published this week.

Researchers analyzed six climate change-related events in the U.S. occurring during 2002 through 2009, including: Florida hurricanes, North Dakota floods, California heat waves and wild fires, nationwide ozone air pollution, and West Nile virus outbreaks in Louisiana (which were tied to warmer weather and changes in precipitation patterns).

They found that the six categories of events resulted in an estimated 1,689 premature deaths, 8,992 hospitalizations, 21,113 emergency room visits, and 734,398 outpatient visits, totaling over 760,000 encounters with the health care system.

"When extreme weather hits, we hear about the property damage and insurance costs. The healthcare costs never end up on the tab, but that doesn't mean they're not there," said in a press release lead author Kim Knowlton, DrPH, assistant clinical professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and Senior Scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The study is the first of its kind to quantify the damages of climate change related events, according to researchers. They hope that government agencies and key players can create effective partnerships for climate-health preparedness that limit and reduce public health damage.

According to researchers, 13 out of 50 states currently include public health measures in their climate change adaptation plans.

"Investments in climate change mitigation at the local, state and national levels, married with analyses of the climate change health costs to inform this strategic planning, will save billions of dollars in health costs and save lives," Dr. Knowlton said in the press release.

They also pushed for the passing of a Climate Change Health Protection and Promotion bill proposed this week by Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA) aimed to develop a n ational strategic action plan to assist health professionals in preparing for and responding to the public health effects of climate change.f