U.S. health insurers must divest from fossil fuels

January 04, 2021
Area(s) of Interest: Public Health 

By Ashley McClure, M.D., FACP
CMA Alternate Delegate for District 9

A new campaign led by health professionals and health advocates is emerging to expose the health insurance industry’s dirty little secret: US health insurers collectively invest tens of billions of dollars into coal, oil, and gas companies. We know that exposure to pollution from the extraction, transport, and burning of fossil fuels costs approximately 200,000 lives each year in the US and causes preventable sickness. 

The climate crisis is further causing harm to public health. The World Health Organization estimates climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year between 2030-2050, at a cost of two to four billion dollars a year. Climate change is projected to increase incidences of heat stress, food insecurity, asthma and respiratory diseases, mosquito-borne diseases like Dengue fever and malaria, the spread of water-borne diseases, and other severe health impacts.

The harms to human health do not affect the population equally. The burden of exposure to fossil fuels and the accompanying risks to human health fall disproportionately on communities of color. Fossil fuel infrastructure is sited overwhelmingly near communities of color, from oil drilling in California, to pipelines in the Midwest, petrochemical refineries on the Gulf Coast, and coal plants throughout the nation. These exposures contribute to higher rates of severe childhood asthma and death from cardiovascular and cancer-related illnesses among communities of color compared to whites.

Health insurance companies display a real hypocrisy by investing in the industries that make people sick. It’s long past time for U.S. health insurers to join the over 30 insurers worldwide that have divested from fossil fuels.

In October 2020, 60 health and environmental organizations sent a letter to the top ten US health insurance companies, calling on them to divest their assets in coal, oil, and gas. It was accompanied by a paper “Running Out of Time: Why Health and Life Insurers Should Divest From Fossil Fuels” authored by Physicians For Social Responsibility and the Insure Our Future campaign. 

Individuals and organizations who want to get more involved or hear updates on the campaign can sign up here.

To listen to a webinar on the topic hosted by Physicians for Social Responsibility and The Sunrise Project, click here.



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