New research discovers that Medicare costs appear to be fewer in regions with more forests/shrublands than in regions dominated by other kinds of land covers. The relationship holds even when considering financial, geographic or other factors that might individually impact health care costs.
The study consisted of health/environmental data from about 3,000 counties in the U.S.
According to University of Illinois graduate, Douglas A. Becker, counties with the least socioeconomic standing seemed to profit most from surges in greenery.
“At first, I was surprised by this,” stated Becker. “But then it occurred to me that low-income communities are getting the biggest bang for their buck because they probably have the most to gain.”
The discoveries are observational and do not verify that more greenery leads to lower health care expenses, Becker states. However, the research adds to increasing evidence relating green areas to better health in those living close by.
“Previous studies have looked at any health outcomes people think might be linked to nature: depression, cardiovascular disease, physical activity levels, even recovery from surgery,” told Becker.
“…There is also a lot of work… showing a link between exposure to green space and beneficial health effects,” Becker said.
For instance, researches have revealed how individuals in ICU improve more quickly if their hospital rooms windows open up to trees and not parking lots.
For this research, the group turned to the National Land Cover Database. It separates each county into 30-meter-square plots.
“We took the average of different types of land cover and the per capita Medicare spending in a county and compared these two while controlling for several socioeconomic and demographic factors like age, sex, race, median household income, health care access and health behaviors,” says Becker.
The Centers for Medicaid along with Medicare Services regulate the Medicare expenses data to mirror alterations in health care expenses in various areas of the U.S.
According to the analysis, every 1% of a county’s site covered in forest corresponded to a mean Medicare expenditure saving of $4.32 per person each year, stated Becker.
“If you multiply that by the number of Medicare fee-for-service users in a county and by the average forest cover and by the number of counties in the U.S., it amounts to about $6 billion in reduced Medicare spending every year nationally,” he told.
Including the impacts of shrub-lands escalate the savings to $9 billion per annum.