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Sick Americans Live Longer than English Peers

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers from the RAND Corporation have compiled information showing that Americans with chronic disease live longer than their English peers. The conclusion is that the American healthcare system may be better, but not the health of Americans.

The study, published in the journal “Demography” found Americans age 55 to 64 have more chronic illnesses than in England but still die at same rate. When comparing older British and Americans with chronic disease, the study found Americans live longer.

According to James P. Smith, distinguished chair in labor markets and demographic studies at RAND, who co-authored the study along with James Banks and Alastair Muriel of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, "If you get sick at older ages, you will die sooner in England than in the United States. It appears that at least in terms of survival at older ages with chronic disease, the medical system in the United States may be better than the system in England."

Chronic Disease in America Higher than in England

The RAND study found that chronic disease in Americans is higher than in England overall, and strikes at an earlier age. The most prevalent chronic illnesses that affect younger Americans is diabetes, and the prevalence is double that of the British population.

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Diabetes, high-blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, chronic lung diseases and cancer are higher in Americans and in both younger and older Englanders. Cancer rates for people in their 70’s are twice as high in the US, but despite the prevalence of major illnesses in the US, Americans still live longer.

The researchers point to two possible explanations as to why sick Americans live longer compared to the British – either disease is diagnosed later in England, leading to increased mortality, or the medical system is better. Either way, James Smith says the implication is “that there is higher-quality medical care in the United States than in England, at least in the sense that these chronic illnesses are less likely to cause death among people living in the United States."

The findings may show the medical system in America is better than in England, but it also shows Americans have health issues that need to be addressed. The important message from Banks is, “The solution may be to alter lifestyles or other behaviors." The researchers note a good economy cannot counteract the depletion of financial resources that come from poor health.

“The United States' health problem is not fundamentally a health care or insurance problem, at least at older ages. It is a problem of excess illness and the solution to that problem may lie outside the health care delivery system.” The study authors also looked at financial resources in both countries as it relates to dying. Increased wealth seen during the economic growth from 1992 and 2002 in the United States did not alter the probability of dying, but it does take a toll on household wealth.

RAND Corporation