Apr 22, 2024 - Health

Hospital emissions reporting proposal is a "game changer"

a smokestack with emissions coming out in the shape of a health plus

Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios

Hospitals for the first time could be asked to report their greenhouse gas emissions to the federal health department.

Why it matters: A new Medicare proposal to collect that data is a "game changer" for hospital efforts to fight climate change, the head of Health and Human Services' climate office told Axios.

  • The health care system produces 8.5% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions — a third of which comes from hospitals — and has faced pressure to reduce its carbon footprint as the effects of climate change threaten hospital operations and patients' health.

How it works: For now, a select group of hospitals could voluntarily report on key emissions metrics under an experiment Medicare's innovation office proposed this month.

  • Hospital payment wouldn't be affected by these reports. Instead, hospitals would receive individualized feedback to help them reduce emissions, as well as recognition from HHS.
  • Collecting information on emissions is the first step to reducing them, said John Balbus, director of the HHS Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, which helped Medicare craft the proposal.
  • Cutting emissions to "make sure that disasters don't get worse and worse and more frequent" is just as crucial as making sure hospitals are ready to respond to climate disasters, he said.

Decarbonizing the health sector could improve health outcomes for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries — and save taxpayers' money, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services noted in its proposal.

  • The experiment, if finalized, would run from 2026-2030.

What's next: Balbus' office is also spearheading an HHS campaign to help health care providers access tax credits and grants from the Inflation Reduction Act, which included incentives for industry to help improve the environment.

  • He hopes to get at least 100 hospitals to apply for and receive financial assistance from the IRA in the next year.
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