Why most Americans are disappointed in the healthcare system

The data shows that a nation with one of most costly healthcare systems worldwide has seen a decline in life expectancy exceeding 100 years.

At the end of August, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put out a press release announcing that life expectancy in the country dropped for the second year in a row in 2021. According to the release, Americans will live the same life expectancy as 1996. The two-year drop was also noted. 

What’s driving this considerable decline is, per the CDC, primarily the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. That’s perhaps not surprising since the US has the most extensive caseload and death toll worldwide. But it’s essential to also note that US life expectancy had been plateauing since before the pandemic due to “Unintentional injuries” liver disease, suicide, and preventable illnesses. 

America’s life expectancy is falling fast. It is important to note that each country has either a government-funded healthcare system or public health insurance. Do you think there is a correlation between the two?

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Washington Mall memorial to US Covid-19 deaths © Getty Images / Chen Mengtong
US life expectancy plummeting

Well, a new poll that came out Monday from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that less than half of Americans believe their healthcare system is handled well. Only 12% of respondents said the system is being managed extremely or very well. A solution? 40% of respondents support a single payer public system for healthcare, while 58% prefer a public option.

It’s not hard to see why Americans feel this way when health outcomes in the country are so poor, meanwhile having one of the most expensive healthcare systems in the world. And it’s not just older adults or the immunocompromised, e.g., those at greatest risk for Covid-19 who are exposed to America’s poor health outcomes, as I mentioned earlier.

Another valuable metric for understanding the health impact of the pandemic and other factors on how long Americans live is called ‘years of life lost’ (YLL). One preprint study called ‘Missing Americans: Early Death in the United States, 1933-2021’ found that “half of all deaths under 65 years and 91% of the increase in under-65 immortality since 2019 would have been avoided if the U.S. had the mortality rates of its peers.”

The paper concludes that children and adults aged between 18-34 years have a higher death rate in the US than their peers, with some cases even up to three times the rate. The paper also found that the US still has more deaths due to unintentional injuries or preventable diseases than other comparable countries, even though excess Covid-19 deaths were eradicated. All of this contributed to an overall YLL of 25,000,000 years in 2021, mainly due to younger people becoming prematurely ill. 

Many things can be said about America’s many public health challenges, including the opioid epidemic, gun violence epidemic and obesity. These issues require comprehensive public health and policy responses. A functioning healthcare system, which produces sufficient results at a reasonable cost while being accessible to all is the key that will connect them all.

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Americans spend far too much on treatment, which I already said. But then there’s a significant amount of people that just don’t have access to healthcare. For example, some young people don’t visit the doctor because they assume they’re young and healthy. These people may end up with emergencies which land them at the hospital. 

The problem is that preventative medicine is extremely important for ensuring people don’t end up in the emergency room or with major disabilities – and the American healthcare system fails. Another indicator that shows this is healthy average life expectancy, which indicates how long someone can live with no disability. The US is the country with the lowest health-related expectancy in high income countries, just above 66 years according to the World Health Organization’s 2019 report. 

Americans are living longer than their peers. They are less likely to be diagnosed with preventable diseases and develop disabilities earlier in their lives. They also have less affordable and accessible healthcare. It’s no wonder that so many are dissatisfied with the healthcare system. It’s well past time to reform it.



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