The cost of treating asthma-related illness is on the rise in New York State, especially in the city, and now, local and state officials are calling for policy changes that would target funding toward certain neighborhoods and more robust prevention initiatives. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
The annual overall cost of asthma-related care in New York State has topped $1.3 billion, according to the latest numbers released by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
"Our report finds that the Medicaid cost to taxpayers for treating asthma has jumped, and the prevalence of asthma among older Medicaid recipients is especially high," DiNapoli says.
Medicaid costs for asthma-related illnesses rose 26 percent in the last five years, faster than any other Medicaid expenditure. Blacks and Latinos remain disproportionately affected by the disease.
"While asthma-related deaths and hospitalizations have declined in New York, showing a measure of progress, Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks have shown significantly higher mortality rates than whites," DiNapoli says.
As NY1 reported last month, asthma hospitalization rates have dropped substantially in East and Central Harlem due to programs offered in part by the East Harlem Asthma Center of Excellence.
"We've seen a reduction of about 37 percent," says Roger Hayes, assistant city health commissioner who is involved with the East Harlem Asthma Center of Excellence.
The report also raises questions about how Medicaid dollars are being spent to address the persistent asthma issue. Some lawmakers are suggesting that more funding needs to be directed toward prevention and community-based centers.
"Unfortunately, we're seeing this prevalence on the rise, but as has been indicated by the assistant commissioner, it is because of programs like this that are in the midst of our communities that we're able to control the hospitalization rates," said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
Lawmakers also stressed the need for zoning changes that would cut down on the number of high-pollution facilities, like bus depots and marine transfer stations, in poor neighborhoods, where asthma rates are the highest.
"Part of what we've got to do is get these facilities out of concentrated zip codes so that people have a real opportunity to have healthy lives," said City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Overall, the ultimate cause behind the rising asthma rates is generally unknown.