US Life Expectancy Below That Of 41 Other Nations

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Life expectancy in the U.S. has reached its highest point ever, but it is exceeded by the rates in 41 other countries, the AP/Arizona Daily Starreports. The U.S. has been slipping for decades in internationalrankings of life expectancies as other countries are improving healthcare, nutrition and lifestyles, according to the AP/Daily Star.Countries that rank above the U.S. include Japan, most of Europe,Jordan and the Cayman Islands. A U.S. resident born in 2004 has a lifeexpectancy of 77.9 years, placing the U.S. in 42nd place, down from11th place two decades ago.

Researchers say the lower U.S.ranking is attributed to the high uninsured rate among the population,in addition to rising obesity rates and racial disparities in lifeexpectancy. Black U.S. residents have a shorter life span, at 73.3years, than whites. The U.S. also has a high infant mortality ratecompared with other industrialized nations, with 40 countries havinglower infant mortality rates than the U.S. in 2004.

Thecountry with the longest life expectancy is Andorra at 83.5 years.Swaziland is last at 34.1 years, attributed to sub-Saharan Africa'shigh rate of HIV and AIDS, as well as famine and civil strife.

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Christopher Murray, head of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluationat the University of Washington, said, "Something's wrong here when oneof the richest countries in the world, the one that spends the most onhealth care, is not able to keep up with other countries." According toMurray, improving access to health insurance could increase lifeexpectancy, but he predicted that the U.S. ranking would not improve aslong as the health care debate is limited to insurance. Murray saidpolicymakers must direct their efforts to reducing cancer, heartdisease and lung disease. Murray supports additional efforts to reducetobacco use, control blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and regulateblood sugar.

Sam Harper, an epidemiologist at McGill University,said, "It's not as simple as saying we don't have national healthinsurance. It's not that easy." Paul Terry, an assistant professor ofepidemiology at Emory University,said, "The U.S. has the resources that allow people to get fat andlazy," adding, "We have the luxury of choosing a bad lifestyle asopposed to having one imposed on us by hard times" (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 8/12).

Editorial

A "growing body of evidence" indicates that the U.S. is not a "leader in providing good medical care" but a "laggard," a New York Timeseditorial states. According to the editorial, a comparison of the U.S.and other industrialized nations in several important areas of healthcare finds that:

  • "All other majorindustrialized nations provide universal health coverage" -- most with"comprehensive benefit packages with no cost sharing by the patients"-- but the U.S. "to its shame" has 45 million uninsured residents andmillions of residents with inadequate coverage;
  • U.S.residents receive "prompter attention" than those in most othernations, but "even Americans with above-average incomes find it moredifficult than their counterparts abroad to get care on nights orweekends without going to an emergency room";
  • TheU.S. "ranks dead last on almost all measures of equity," with the"greatest disparity in the quality of care given to richer and poorercitizens";
  • The U.S. ranks "nearthe bottom in healthy life expectancy at age 60" and 15th among 19nations in deaths that would not have resulted "if treated with timelyand effective care";
  • The U.S.ranks "first in providing the 'right care' for a given condition" andhigh for preventive care but performs "poorly in coordinating the careof chronically ill patients, in protecting the safety of patients andin meeting their needs and preferences";
  • TheU.S. in a recent comparison of five nations "had the best survival ratefor breast cancer, second best for cervical cancer and childhoodleukemia, worst for kidney transplants, and almost-worst for livertransplants and colorectal cancer";
  • U.S.residents "hold surprisingly negative views of their health caresystem," and "American attitudes stand out as the most negative" in arecent comparison of five nations; and
  • TheU.S. health care system -- despite "our vaunted prowess in computers,software and the Internet" -- is "still operating in the dark ages ofpaper records and handwritten scrawls," with many U.S. physicians"years behind doctors in other advanced nations in adopting electronicmedical records or prescribing medications electronically."

Theeditorial states, "With health care emerging as a major issue in thepresidential campaign and in Congress, it will be important to getbeyond empty boasts that this country has 'the best health care systemin the world' and turn instead to fixing its very real defects,"adding, "The world's most powerful economy should be able to provide ahealth care system that really is the best" (New York Times, 8/12).
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Reprinted with permission fromkaisernetwork.org.You can view the entire KaiserDaily Health Policy Report, search the archives, andsign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published forkaisernetwork.org,a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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