With the help of popular author John Green, Ian Bremmer, a professor and political scientist at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs, reported bad news about life expectancy in the United States via Twitter:
The United States will soon drop out of the top 50 nations in terms of life expectancy.
Every country above us has a public option for health insurance from a publicly funded healthcare system. Not some. Not most. Every single one. https://t.co/DpR5L7zhki
—John Green (@johngreen) September 7, 2022
For the first time since the National Health Statistics Center began collecting vital health statistics in 1960, China has surpassed the US in average life expectancy. The median age at death continued its rapid decline from an 80-year high in 2019 to 76.1 years just two years later.
Bremmer argues that this “should be a headline in every (US) newspaper”. (This news has already reached at least 0.04% of the population via social media.) Green adds that the nation could soon fall out of the top 50 nations in the world. While this is an incredible statistic for the world’s wealthiest country by GDP, Green points out that every country above the US provides individual healthcare through a publicly funded option.
Sharp-eyed skeptics may argue that this statistic is misleading. For example, according to the CDC analysis, the COVID-19 outbreak is responsible for 50% of our falling life expectancy. However, this point only highlights how poorly this country has responded to a global pandemic.
Other causes of death pointed out by the CDC included unintentional injuries (such as opioid overdoses and car accidents), heart disease and chronic liver disease, and cirrhosis. It’s true, of course, that Americans don’t always have the healthiest of lifestyles, eschewing the Mediterranean diet in favor of simple, convenient, and bad-living foods. And even when we try to eat healthy, sometimes we are fooled. And of course, a sedentary lifestyle is a major contributor to ill health, which is why it’s so important to get a good workout and make sure we’re not sitting at our desks all day. But another big problem? Health insurance. The American Health Association found that health insurance “improves access to care and is associated with lower mortality rates, better health outcomes, and improved productivity.”
Despite recent increases (20 million new members in recent years) and 90% of the US population retaining health insurance, more than 28 million people still lack critical basic services. According to the AHA, “meaningful health insurance is critical to living a productive, safe, and healthy life.”
Health insurance improves access to care
Health insurance reduces the barriers to accessing health care. AHA research found that adults and children who are Medicaid members are over four times more likely to maintain consistent sources of care and more than twice as likely to receive preventive care services than those without insurance.
Those with insurance coverage are more likely to have access to prescription drug therapies, including access to diabetes and asthma medications, contraceptives, and cardiovascular drugs. Insured people are also more likely to receive earlier diagnosis and treatment, which contributes to better health outcomes.
In states that have increased Medicaid coverage, fewer people say that costs impede access to health care than in states that have not expanded Medicaid. This makes sense, as fewer people in these expanding states report skipping prescription drugs because of high prices. The expansion of State Medicaid also correlates with more timely cancer and diabetes diagnoses and treatments, and surgical conditions. Additionally, a higher proportion of individuals in Medicaid expansion states have a personal physician than in non-expansion states.
Coverage is linked to improved health outcomes
As we can see from the CDC investigation, expanding coverage also lowers mortality rates. The AHA reports that after Massachusetts expanded access to Medicaid and private insurance, the state’s “all-cause mortality” dropped significantly.
The AHA found that Medicaid expansion is specifically associated with reduced cardiovascular deaths. Individuals in elevated Medicaid states were more likely to quit smoking because of preventive measures and evidence-based smoking cessation services. The analysis also found that people with insurance coverage report greater well-being and more psychiatric visits for insured young adults with mental illness. For example, a study of Oregon’s earlier expansion found lower rates of depression among insured individuals.
Individual health, the AHA found, leads to improved family and community well-being. There are mutliple reasons for this.
Coverage reduces the financial burden and risk on individuals and families by reducing care expenses and essentially eliminating catastrophic bills for catastrophic accidents. Having more money makes it easier for people to meet not only medical but also financial needs.
More people with more money not only allow these investments to flow into the community, but also reduce violence and property crime. Research also found that Medicaid expansion has created thousands of jobs. When individuals are able to take better care of themselves, there is less need for desperate acts. Taken together, this reduces government spending to reduce crime and cover unpaid medical bills.
With the most recent reported decline, life expectancy in the US is now at its lowest level since 1996. If the US is to regain its longevity and place among the developed world, the country must improve its healthcare.