Will Health Insurance Reform Improve U.S. Life Expectancy?

Since 1975, medical innovations have resulted in life expectancies rising in all developed countries. The United States is no different. However, in this respect, America is not number one.

For example, 45-year-old men saw their 15-year survival rates drop to 12th place (from third) in 2005. Women of the same age also had significantly lower life expectancies. Senior citizens (65-year-olds) were similarly likely to have shorter lives than other nations.

What other countries were included in the survey?

Canada
Australia
Italy
United Kingdom
Austria
Belgium
France
Germany
Sweden
Switzerland
Netherlands
Japan
The typical scapegoat for Americans living shorter lives than other major industrialized nations is the obesity epidemic. While it is true that the U.S. has a far higher percentage of obese and overweight residents, that percentage has not significantly risen over the past several decades. In fact, obesity rates have gone up far more in other developed nations.

Similarly, higher rates of death from traffic accidents and homicides have remained steady since the 1970s. Therefore, they are not responsible for United States’ life expectancies falling behind.

According to the Commonwealth Fund, the finger should be pointed primarily at the lack of access to affordable health insurance in the United States of America. All of the other countries in the comparison have some form of single-payer, public health care.

Despite Americans’ higher spending on health care, its effectiveness is lower for several reasons. Most significantly, regulations regarding unregulated fee-for-service payments have been relatively lax, driving consumers’ costs up with little to show for it in improved health outcomes. The study, which appears in next month’s issue of the

Health Affairs

scholarly journal, also blames Americans’ over-reliance on specialty care treatments. Its authors claim that the current compensation system promotes doctors’ specializing, because they are paid more for less work than primary care physicians.

The Obama administration’s healthcare reform law may improve this situation. The study’s authors predict that stricter regulations will make health plans more affordable, allowing people greater access to primary care before it negatively impacts their life expectancies. Whether that will actually be the case remains to be seen, but the Commonwealth Fund’s president is optimistic.

Yamileth Medina is an up and coming expert on Health Insurance and Healthcare Reform. She aims to help people realize that they can find affordable health insurance right now. Yamileth lives in Miami, FL.

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