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U.S. Pays a Price for Dirty Air

Excessive levels of pollution affect health care costs, report finds

TUESDAY, March 2 (HealthDay News) -- In the state of California, failure to meet federal and state standards for air pollution was responsible for nearly $200 million in hospital medical expenses over a three-year period, a new study reports.

The Rand Corp., which released the study March 2, estimates that excessive levels of air pollution -- including ozone and fine particles in the air -- caused nearly 30,000 emergency hospital visits and admissions over the time period from 2005 to 2007 in California. Government insurance programs, including Medicare, picked up more than two-thirds of the cost.

"California's failure to meet air pollution standards causes a large amount of expensive hospital care," study author and Rand economist John Romley said in a news release. "The result is that insurance programs -- both those run by the government and private payers -- face higher costs because of California's dirty air."

Romley said the findings show that insurers and employers have a stake in cleaning the air in California.

"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, Romley said.

More than one-third of the estimated number of hospital visits were for children aged 17 and under who suffered asthma attacks, the researchers noted.

The estimated cost of air pollution-related medical care in the study -- $193 million -- is the equivalent of the money that would be needed to give flu vaccines to 85 percent of California's kids under the age of 15, the report noted.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on air pollution.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: RAND Corporation, news release, March 2, 2010

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