BY DAVID INTROCASO
In May the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) simultaneously published two proposed Medicaid rules (here and here) intended to improve moreover access and quality. Both discussed at length the agency’s commitment to “addressing health equity.” The first sentence in both identified health equity as a Medicaid program priority. The proposed “ensuring access” rule stated CMS “takes a comprehensive approach to . . . better addressing health equity issues in the Medicaid program.” CMS went on to state “we are working to advance health equity by designing, implementing, and operationalizing policies and programs” by “eliminating avoidable differences in health and quality of life outcomes experienced by people who are disadvantaged or underserved.”
Nevertheless, CMS’ interest in health equity is entirely performative. It is impossible to believe the agency is legitimately interested in “eliminating avoidable differences” because leadership is well aware the greatest health equity threat to Medicaid – and Medicare – beneficiaries is the climate crisis. This is because the most climate vulnerable Americans are Medicaid and Medicare populations. Yet, the climate crisis is never addressed much less mentioned in either proposed Medicaid rule. The word “climate” never appears in 291 Federal Register pages.
This is explained by the fact that despite the Biden administration’s “government-wide approach” approach to “tackle” the climate crisis, HHS has refused to address the threat the climate crisis poses by regulating the healthcare industry’s massive carbon footprint.
Children, 36 percent of whom are Medicaid beneficiaries, are uniquely vulnerable. Fine respirable particles resulting from fossil fuel combustion are particularly harmful because children breathe more air than adults relative to their body weight. Research published last year concluded the health effects to the fetus, infant and child include preterm and low-weight birth, infant death, hypertension, kidney and lung disease, immune-system dysregulation, structural and functional changes to the brain and a constellation of behavioral health diagnoses.
Medicare beneficiaries, already compromised due to higher incidence rates of co-morbidities, are at even greater risk related to arthropod-borne, food-borne and water-borne diseases because the climate crisis can increase the severity of over half of known human pathogenic diseases. Extreme heat episodes are particularly deadly. Over the past 20 years heat-related mortality among seniors has increased 54%.Continue reading…