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A Messy ‘Upstream’

Most recently, I received an unexpected email from a blog subscriber that stated the following:

We had bad news in the neighborhood. A 3,600 head hog confinement with a 1.2 million gallon “lagoon” is planning on going up [being built]. I’ve done my research and found numerous scientific studies from the University of Iowa – College of Public Health, Duke Medical School and many scholarly articles in medical journals outlining the increased health risk of those within the zone of influence.  My question is – do health insurance companies have (or have they) tried to get compensation for increased claims in the affected areas? For example a 30% increase in childhood asthma is one documented affect. (This can be a significant claim expense when factoring in the number of confinements and number of affected children).
Do you have any contacts that I could ask if it is even possible for health insurance companies to extract damages or if they have already tried or if it just isn’t possible under the law?

I have no specific answer to this inquiry. Yet, I found this to be a particularly interesting question, given the recent developments in Central Iowa. As most Iowans know, the Des Moines Water Works is suing three northwest Iowa counties that manage drainage districts with high nitrate concentrations. High levels of nitrates released upstream is threatening a key source of drinking water – the Raccoon River – for one-half million central Iowans downstream.

The Water Works Fact Sheet explains their perspective as an ongoing health problem for those of us living downstream. The Water Works says it is unfair that their customers are subjected to the health risks and costs of removing this harmful chemical from the drinking water. In short, why should those living downstream have to pay for the pollution occurring upstream?

The specifics of this lawsuit were recently covered by Iowa media, including the Des Moines Business Record (subscription required), who carefully balanced both sides of this important societal issue. As stated in the Business Record, “…(this lawsuit) is going to be as legally intriguing as it is important politically, economically, and environmentally.”

As lines are being drawn regarding who should be held accountable for our societal health issues (and costs), it does allow one to ponder other potential battles that could be brewing in the future, as articulated in the above email. What is common knowledge is that we will ALL eventually pay the cost, both healthwise and monetarily.

In 2013, we developed an infographic, Our Health Care River, that was intended to briefly describe two ‘chemicals’ impacting our health insurance costs downstream – ‘Unhealthy Lifestyles’ and a ‘Fragmented Delivery System.’ As with polluted water, we spend a great deal of time downstream agonizing over the pollution caused (e.g. higher health insurance premiums) from upstream ‘chemicals’ – with seemingly very little progress being made.

At some point, moving upstream to address the source of our problems will help determine just how ‘clean’ our water will be downstream. There are no easy solutions, for sure, but having public discussions, consistent dialogue and ultimately meaningful action(s), are long overdue.

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