U.S. life expectancy has declined by nearly three years since 2019, according to data out this week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The average person can expect to live 76 years.
The COVID-19 pandemic is largely to blame for this regrettable trend. But many progressives believe the U.S. healthcare system is culpable as well.
A few weeks before the CDC released its figures, the left-leaning Commonwealth Fund published a report lamenting, “Despite spending more on health care than any other nation, the United States has a lower average life expectancy and higher avoidable mortality … than other middle- and high-income countries.”
A study published in July, meanwhile, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA concluded that “a single-payer universal healthcare system would have saved 212,000 lives in 2020 alone.”
That narrative is convenient for supporters of socialized medicine. But it isn’t borne out by the facts.
The CDC attributes half of the drop in life expectancy last year to “increases in mortality due to COVID-19. “Unintentional injuries,” which include drug overdoses, were responsible for nearly 16% of the decline in life expectancy.
The U.S. response to COVID has left a lot to be desired. But the notion that a European-style universal coverage system would have been preferable is absurd.
The United Kingdom’s government-run health system, the National Health Service, still hasn’t recovered from the COVID crisis.
According to government figures, a record 6.73 million British patients are now waiting for care. An investigation by British journalists recently uncovered a separate, hidden NHS waiting list that includes another 10 million patients. That would mean that one-fourth of Brits are waiting for care.
NHS data released in August showed that ambulances in England took almost an hour, on average, to reach heart attack and stroke victims.
The other chief cause of America’s falling life expectancy is unintentional injuries — events that are even more difficult to pin on the U.S. health system than COVID deaths.
For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that more than 42,000 people died in vehicle crashes last year. That’s 10.5% more than the number who died in 2020.
Most of those deaths by unintentional injury were drug-related fatalities. As the CDC put it, “Increases in unintentional injury deaths in 2021 were largely driven by drug overdose deaths.” A report published last year by the CDC found that overdose deaths increased nearly 30% in 2020.
The prevalence of drug overdoses is a national tragedy. But it’s a multi-faceted problem — one that socialized medicine does not have an answer for either.
In England and Wales, for example, the mortality rate from drug poisoning nearly doubled between 1993 and 2021. Last year’s was the highest rate on record.
Those who suggest that America’s falling life expectancy demands a government healthcare takeover are at best, deluded. At worst, they’re exploiting a national tragedy to achieve a policy goal that patients, if they’re lucky, will live to regret.