Measuring the Impact of Air Pollution on Health Care Costs

Health Affairs, 2020

An Analysis Group study has concluded that a foundational tool the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses to support air quality regulations may be underestimating air pollution-related health care costs by as much as 40%, indicating that the benefits of reducing air pollution may be much larger than previously measured. According to the study, which appeared in Health Affairs, the Environmental Benefits Mapping and Analysis Program–Community Edition (BenMAP-CE) tool neglects to include costs related to physician and clinic visits, prescription drugs, supplies, and home health care, among other things. Updating the tool’s scope to include a full range of air pollution-induced health costs could allow policymakers to make more informed decisions and fully measure their impact.

The researchers, led by affiliate Howard G. Birnbaum and including Vice President Urvi Desai, Associate Susan Ou, and Senior Analysts Christopher D. Carley and Peter R. Zuckerman, studied the health care resources used and the related costs for a set of patients who were hospitalized for respiratory or cardiovascular issues in 2016. They compared these data to health care costs associated with the same set of patients in 2015, when none of the patients had been hospitalized for these conditions. By comparing the total costs for each year, the team was able to identify additional costs associated with treatment for respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. The study’s results suggest that policy analyses using the BenMAP-CE model substantially underestimate the potential health care benefits of reductions in air pollution.

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Authors

Birnbaum HG, Carley CD, Desai U, Ou S, Zuckerman PR