by Chris Huckins Google+ Email 


29 May 2014

Air Pollution Cost California $200M Annually Before Obamacare

Posted in Latest News

Air Pollution Cost California $200M Annually Before Obamacare

There is a burden in the air for insurance companies, the government, and employers who provide health insurance. 

Air pollution cost California over $200 million a year from 2005-2007 for air pollution-related illnesses which could have been avoided if the state met federal air quality standards. 

Coincidentally, $200 million is exactly the amount of money California allotted in 2014-15's budget to advance its Charge Ahead California initiative to place 1 million electric vehicles on the road in the next 10 years. Imagine if the state had double the funds: there may be double the eco-friendly cars.

How badly does California need to get its act together?

In California, 77% of the population lives in areas with a F grade in air pollution. The EPA, which measures ozone and particle pollution by concentration, concluded that in 8 hours, some California regions can range from "unhealthy to hazardous" air quality levels. 

In the years before Obamacare, RAND Corporation studied several areas with high concentrations of air pollution and nearby hospitals to quantify how much treatments cost when patients visited ER for air pollution-related illnesses: cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, asthma, and bronchitis. 

During this time, Medi-Cal which serves low income Californians and is paid for by taxpayers, spent $103,600,000 per year to treat patients suffering from air pollution. Medi-Care, which helps the elderly, paid $27,000,000 annually. Private insurance companies paid $55,000,000 annually.

Not only was money spent where it didn't need to be, but money wasn't spent where it should have been: on roads.

Under the Clear Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can withhold transit and highway funding from cities that don't meet federal air quality standards.

In 2004, the government kept $153 million in federal transportation funding from the city of Atlanta for just that reason. If Los Angeles doesn't get its act together, we may never see the 405 completed. 

Just last year in San Joaquin Valley, the area with the worst air pollution outside of Los Angeles, the feds  fined the district's Air Pollution Control $29 million for failing to meet ozone standards. That bill was paid for by drivers, who spent an additional $12 for car registration. 

Ironic, isn't it? California needs more roads for more cars that create more air pollution, but must replace cars with electric ones to earn the funding to make more roads.

This week served as a reminder that California still struggles to balance transportation with passing air quality grades.

A study released May 29th from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles and the Department of Preventive Medicine found air pollution at its worst within a 10-mile radius of Los Angeles International Airport. Some places are 6-8 times more polluted than the LA's average. 

But there's a light at the end of the Sepulveda tunnel.

Several miles from LAX, the city of Irwindale overcame its own airborne pollution problem caused by spicy chili sauce, not smog. 

City officials on Wednesday dropped a lawsuit against the Sriracha Factory, which expelled airborne irritants to the eyes of 1,400 residents. The factory changed its air filters, which it believed would solve the problem when it resumes chili sauce production in August.

Less Sriracha in the air means more kids in the playground and not in the hospital.

Under Obamacare, more businesses can afford to clean up their air pollution too when they save on group health insurance. With nearby businesses cleaning up their act, residents will spend less on air-pollution illnesses and perhaps more on Sriracha.

Similarly, those who save on health insurance can perhaps afford a more fuel-efficient car or fleet of eco-friendly cars for businesses, cleaning up the air even more.

While California has some of the most congested roads in the country, its high number of health insurance enrollments may save California in the long run. 

When more individuals and families get covered by Medi-Cal, Medicare, private, or Covered California plans, more people get access to early treatment for air pollution-related illnesses. This saves the individual or government program from paying for more expensive care in the future when illnesses would get worse.

Money the California government saves on health insurance may help fund the goal to put 1 million electric cars on the road.

In the end, Obamacare will help clean up the air. You read it here first.