The first Earth Day, conceived by Sen. Gaylord Nelson and observed across the country on April 22, 1970, highlighted a growing public concern for ecological issues. Forty-two years later, the call to protect our planet still resonates. At the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), we are committed to protecting the health and well-being of all Americans, and it is clear that the health of the American people is connected to the health of our environment.
A 2011 study published in Health Affairs found that poor childhood health triggered by environmental causes, such as exposure to toxic chemicals and pollutants, cost the United States $76.6 billion, or 3.5 percent of national health care costs in 2008. We at HHS promote comprehensive public health and environmental policies, recognizing not only the economic impact of an unhealthy environment, but also its toll on human lives. The Affordable Care Act, the new health care law, is helping to ensure that all Americans have access to high-quality, affordable health care no matter what their ethnic, racial or socioeconomic background.
I have had the opportunity to meet with people across the country and hear their stories. When I visited Cleveland, Ohio, I met a woman whose daughter has suffered since childhood from asthma and was having trouble finding insurance due to her pre-existing condition. While we still have more work to do in fostering and sustaining healthy environments, the new health care law prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage for children with pre-existing conditions, including those with environmentally induced conditions such as asthma and certain cancers. In 2014, Americans of all ages, including this woman's daughter, will be protected from this insurance industry abuse.
I hope that you will join me in observing Earth Day 2012, and that every day you will answer the call to protect our environment and in doing so, contribute to the health of our country. Earth Day reminds us that in order to maintain our own ability to thrive and live healthy lives, we must take actions that promote and maintain the health of our environment.