The price of gas is a headache for every consumer. But the health impacts of high
fuel prices go beyond that metaphorical symptom.
Consider medical supplies and home health. But it’s not all bad news: on the positive side, higher fuel prices could positive impact the obesity epidemic and the rate of motor vehicle fatalities. Read on.
Latex gloves and med-surg supplies. Think about one of the most ubiquitous medical supplies: gloves. Walgreens recently said a box of 120 private-label latex gloves has nearly doubled in price. In 2007, a consumer could purchase two boxes for $9.99; today, the store has a sale price of $7.99 for a single box. There’s a lot of oil in those protective goods.
Hospitals use petrol-intensive supplies ranging from gloves to bed pans and tubing, according to a column in the Youngstown Vindicator. A 200-bed hospital can use 16,000 gloves per day (6 million a year).
The largest glove manufacturer is located in Malaysia and controls
65% market share in rubber gloves. They may be cutting production this
year as they’re not able to pass on cost increases to American
hospitals already hit by inflation and a weak dollar.
According to the Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA),
hospital supply-chain budgets are being hit hard by the price of oil.
According to a recent article in Modern Healthcare, this is severely
impacting the group purchasing organization (GPO) market, which
provides supplies in bulk to hospitals. In some instances, vendors are
forcing price increases or threatening canceling supplies contracts.
For the Henry Ford Hospital System, as an example, a 1 percent increase in
medical-surgical product prices equates to ‘a couple of million
dollars,’ according to Ford’s vice president of supply chain.
Home health hurts. Perhaps the most direct impact of high gas prices
on health is in the area of house calls — especially home health care.
There are providers, especially in rural areas, that are considering
leaving the field due to gas price pressures on their costs of care.
Some provider organizations are giving staff prepaid gas cards and
rental cars in places like New York and California. There is
legislation in Congress from Sen. Tim Johnson to address the impact of
fuel prices on Medicare payments. The National Association of Area
Agencies on Aging recently surveyed their membership and found that
half of their constituents had cut back on home visits because of gas
prices. 90% expect to cut visits in 2009. See more about this serious
story in a July 20th AP news story, "House calls? Not with gas prices
And now, for some more positive possibilities…
Can there be positive public health outcomes for obesity and motor vehicle
fatalities? According to Professors Michael Morrisey of
the University of Alabama at Birmingham and David Grabowski of Harvard
Medical School, every 10 percent increase in gas prices leads to a 2.3 percent
decline in auto deaths. That’s even greater in younger drivers.
Morrisey and Grabowski presented this research at a recent meeting of
the American Society of Health Economists. The study was funded by the
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
A recent blog in Wired claims that "Rising Gas
Prices Could Cure Obesity." In another study, "A Silver Lining? The Connection Between Gasoline
Prices and Obesity," Charles Courtemanche, an assistant economics
professor at Washington U. in St. Louis, calculates that a $1 increase
in the price of gas could cut obesity by 10 percent. (This paper is
Courtemanche’s dissertation, under peer review). He looked at 20 years
of data on U.S. fuel prices and health statistics, finding that obesity
doubled to nearly one-third between 1979 and 2004. Courtemanche
attributed 8% of the increase to low fuel prices and said, "Cheaper gas
during that period made us fat."
Jane’s Hot Points: In the immediate term, gas prices’
impact on home health could have disastrous implications for rural and
exurban citizens’ access to necessary care. Congress could remedy this
quickly — before 90% of home care agencies reduce visits in 2009 —
with relief through home health Medicare payments. In the intermediate
and longer term, high gas prices call for the redesign of home health
by incorporating new technologies in homes and among providers to help
people stay well at home. This must include expanding telehealth,
remote monitoring and health visits via web- and phone-conferencing.
Intel’s recent FDA-approval for its Health Guide is an example of such
a technology that’s ready for prime-time.
Perhaps high gas prices will be a boon to motivate this important change in the home health and healthy aging front.