Climate Change and Health in the Midst of Obamacare Repeal
By Gwen Child, Communications Fellow
We are entering a time when a lot is up in the air regarding health care in the United States. With president-elect Donald Trump being sworn into office this week, it is unclear what will happen to our country’s health care system. Republicans have been opposing President Obama’s health care law for years, and just last week in Trump’s first press conference since he was elected, he shared his intention to repeal and replace this law. With a new budget resolution recently passed, steps towards repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are already underway, though it unclear what the replacement plan is.
This reorganization is occurring at a time when we are facing critical health issues due to climate change. The growing severity of weather patterns means that many areas are seeing an increase in health-threatening weather. Events such as floods and hurricanes cause potential injury and death, as well as post-disaster risks. Climate-related health issues are also expanding because of problems like vector-borne disease, water borne illnesses and diminishing air quality due to pollution.
Climate change is a serious issue with impacts that affect the entire globe, making it crucial that we prioritize integrative and effective solutions to minimize harm. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is the first market-based program to reduce greenhouse gases in the United States – a success story that serves as a model for cooperative efforts to reduce climate change.
Under RGGI, nine states (CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, NH, NY, RI and VT) came together to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. The program set a mandatory cap of 91 million short tons in 2014 that reduces 2.5% each year until 2020. Revenue from this program is invested in renewable energy and energy efficiency measures, effectively spurring innovation in green technology and helping direct focus toward sustainable energy options.
RGGI not only helps protect the environment, but has also produced significant public health benefits. A new report by Abt Associates, found that RGGI regulations led to a considerable reduction in air pollution from fossil fuels. Participating states, as well as surrounding areas have seen that cleaner air means healthier people. Residents in the area have been experiencing decreased respiratory illnesses, heart attacks and fewer premature deaths. The report highlights a few major victories, including:
•Saved 300-830 lives;
•Avoided more than 8,200 asthma attacks;
•Averted 39,000 lost work days; and
•$5.7 billion in health savings and other benefits
It is clear that RGGI has had successful environmental and health impacts, demonstrating that the benefits of market-based programs to reduce CO2 emissions extend to everyone.
With the ever-looming threats that climate change presents to our health, it is important to take action from all angles to prevent a public health disaster. We must utilize the new evidence that market-based greenhouse gas reduction programs are beneficial to public health, while also supporting those worried about the future of their health care coverage.
In Massachusetts, there is strong opposition to the repeal of the ACA. This past Sunday, about 6,000 people – so many that they had to set up screens outside for those who could not fit in the building – gathered to hear Senators Elizabeth Warren, Senator Ed Markey, and Mayor Marty Walsh speak on the topic. They promised a bold fight to protect health care coverage for members of the Commonwealth.
While health care coverage is crucial, we must simultaneously work to prevent an increase in climate change-related health risks. One way we can do this is by utilizing the new research on the success of market-based emission reduction programs, and put a fee on carbon pollution in Massachusetts in addition to the regulations already in place through RGGI. In the post-truth world we are entering, we must relentlessly push forward science-based evidence and demand that our policies regarding environmental protection and human health are based off of fact.