How Wildfires And Other Climate-Related Events Drive Up Health Care Costs

We know the climate crisis affects public health. But what do those health impacts cost us?

A new study, published in the journal GeoHealth, estimates the health-related costs of ten "climate-sensitive" events in 2012, including Colorado's devastating wildfires. The price tag, researchers found, totalled $10 billion.

"In Colorado, we identified about 174 premature deaths from wildfires along with about 256 hospital admissions and about 1400 emergency room visits," said Vijay Limaye, a Natural Resources Defense Council scientist and lead author of the study.

Limaye and fellow researchers also examined the health costs related to droughts, extreme heat, insect-borne diseases, algae blooms, hurricanes and other events, all resulting in increases in emergency room visits, hospital admissions, medications, lost work time, and premature deaths.

The study found that in Nevada, ozone air pollution, made worse by extreme heat, led to 97 premature deaths, 114 hospital admissions and $898 million in total health costs.

Across the board, Limaye said, these costs are more often than not borne by government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

"We expect that the climate impacts we examined for one year, 2012, really could signal tens to hundreds of billions of dollars in health related costs from recent and future exposures nationwide," Limaye said.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.