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By A Medical-legal and Partnership Patients-to-policy


Consider a blackout on a steamy summer afternoon. In an instant, the lights go out, the air conditioner shuts off, and the milk in the refrigerator starts to spoil. It’s an unpleasant surprise, but at least the utility company is working to get the power on as soon as they can. Yet for a growing number of Americans, utility companies are actually doing the opposite — they’re turning the power off. With energy prices rising amidst a deep recession, millions of people are falling behind on energy bills. When the lights go out for these families, it’s not because of a downed power line; it’s because they can’t afford to keep them on. When a household loses utility service, the potential health consequences are severe and wide-ranging. Cold weather can be a trigger to asthma, and low temperatures can cause intense pain crises for children with sickle cell disease. Even for low-income households that manage to pay their utility bills, high energy costs often force families to dig into their food budget, exposing them to other negative health outcomes. Households in poverty often sacrifice rent payments, medical and dental care, and food in order to pay their energy bills, which can consume 16 to 25 percent of their annual income. “When families are forced to make this ‘heat or eat ’ tradeoff, it’s a no-win situation, ” says Dr. Lauren Smith, medical director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. “You can’t give up a balanced diet o

Year: 2010
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