Life Expectancy is Now 78

A government report has announced U.S. life expectancy has now surpassed 78 years.  Good news.  The report suggests the main reason for the rise is less flu deaths and a reduction in the death rate of chronic diseases. If we have the best health care system in the world, why is our rising life expectancy still less than what is experienced in 30 other countries?  Answer: health care only makes a small contribution to life expectancy.

Experts estimate our health care system only has a direct effect on about 10% of the factors causing death. While our average life expectancy is not world class, your chance of surviving cancer, a heart attack or any catastrophic life threatening event is best in the good old U.S of A.

Our health care system has developed partly due to economic reality. We have desired high quality acute care and have paid for it preferentially as compared to preventive, wellness, primary or even office based chronic care. In my neck of the woods, health care reimbursement policies have resulted in free standing surgical centers, orthopedic centers, cancer centers and MRI centers while primary care is often thought of as a loss leader feeding providers of highly reimbursed procedures.

The upcoming Presidential election will include a health care debate. My intent behind today’s post is not to provide the answers to the debate, but is to make a few observations which may well lead us to the answers.

  1. Our health care organizations make a lot of money when patients are admitted to the hospital or the various outpatient procedure oriented facilities.
  2. Our health care organizations loose money when patients receive care and live a lifestyle allowing them to stay away from hospitals and outpatient procedures.
  3. Our communities will spend less money on health care with the same results by increasing or establishing reimbursement for services that keep patients out of the hospital.
  4. If we are interested in improving life expectancy, you will get a good bang for buck by concentrating on improving lifestyle behavior that impacts health.

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