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Life Expectancy in the U.S.

Last update on: Feb 02 2017

One of the criticisms of the medical system in the U.S. is that despite all the money we spend, we don’t have great results. Life expectancy is considered the prime way of measuring the effectiveness of medical care. Most of the time the U.S. ranks 19th or 20th when developed countries are ranked for life expectancy.

But is that the best measurement. This article points out that it’s not that simple. Americans have a significant number of deaths from accidents and murders. According to the data, when you control for that factor and examine life expectancy for people who are able to avoid accidental deaths and murders, the U.S. turns out to be #1 in life expectancy.

Finally, U.S. life-expectancy statistics are skewed by the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have one health-care system, but three: Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance. (A fourth, the Obamacare exchanges, is supposed to go into effect in 2014.) As I have noted in the past, health outcomes for those on government-sponsored insurance are worse than for those on private insurance.

To my knowledge, no one has attempted to segregate U.S. life-expectancy figures by insurance status. But based on the data we have, it’s highly likely that those on private insurance have the best life expectancy, with Medicare patients in the middle, and the uninsured and Medicaid at the bottom.

If we look at Switzerland, a country with private-sector, market-based universal coverage, we see very good health outcomes data. Put another way: if we compared the life expectancy of Americans on private insurance with that of centrally-planned Europeans, I’d bet that the U.S. would come out on top. And if that’s true, the argument that socialized medicine leads to longer life evaporates.



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