Medicare Beneficiaries Living in Polluted Areas More Likely To Need Medical Treatment, Study Says
Medicare beneficiaries who live in more polluted areas of the country are "significantly more likely" to need medical treatment, particularly for lung ailments, than those living in less polluted areas, according to a new study, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Published in the current Health Affairs, the study examined medical factors, including outpatient care, hospital admissions and surgical admissions, for white Medicare beneficiaries in 183 metropolitan areas with more than 100,000 people. Researchers compared those factors to air-quality data gathered by the Environmental Protection Agency from 1989-1991 and found that hospital admissions for respiratory ailments were 19% higher in the 37 areas with the highest air pollution, compared with the 37 areas with the least amount of air pollution. Outpatient care was 18% higher and medical admissions were 10% higher (Meckler, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/12). Only surgical admissions were not linked to air pollution levels (Health Affairs release, 11/12). The study controlled for region, population size, education, income, cigarette use and obesity and focused solely on white beneficiaries because race plays "such a large role in health," the AP/Inquirer reports. Victor Fuchs, a Stanford economist and lead author of the study, said, "With medical-care spending exceeding $1 trillion per year, even a reduction of only a few percentage points would save society tens of billions of dollars annually." He added, "Use of medical care is significantly higher in areas with more pollution." However, Randall Lutter, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute, said the study used "crude measurements" and did not take into account other factors, including stress, the AP/Inquirer reports (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.