When Stocks Drop, Heart Attacks Rise

"He's never worried himself so sick that he's checked himself into the hospital. I think what we're picking up here, in our study, are people who are perhaps more sensitive to stress." For such a person, a market drop could be "the straw that breaks the camel's back."

Parsons notes that a person having so dramatic a reaction to a market plunge might not own stock. His or her stress could arise from worry about the effect of a plunge on the economy at large, or from fear of a resulting job loss.

How big might be the health care cost associated with stock market declines? The authors' calculation, which they call "back-of-the-envelope," assumes 3,700 "market-induced" hospitalizations a year in California. They cite a 2009 U.S. Census Bureau estimate that the average hospitalization, nationally, costs roughly $21,000, putting the cost to California at about $77 million a year. They extrapolate from that to estimate a cost of $650 million to the nation as a whole.

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