News Release

Behind the Severe Drop in Life Expectancy in the U.S.


New reports show the average life expectancy in the United States fell again in 2021, leading to what the New York Times called the “sharpest two-year decline in nearly 100 years”––shaving a total of nearly three years off the average life expectancy compared to where the figure stood in 2019. In recent days, few news accounts have highlighted the decline’s relationship to health insurance issues in the United States.

    Kahn is a professor of health policy at the University of California at San Francisco and an editor and blogger at Health Justice Monitor.

Health Justice Monitor notes that “two proximate causes [of the drop]––Covid and chronic disease––have everything to do with insurance gaps.” Meanwhile, “rising fatal accidents and overdoses,” which make up a substantial portion of the nation’s losses in the past two years, “reflect a sense of desperation driven substantially by medical care inaccessibility and debt.” HJM writes: “Single payer would make a huge difference.”

Kahn added: “No other nation has experienced this drastic decline. The fall is greatest among Native Americans, and longevity for Black Americans remains the lowest of any group.”

    “What’s the role of health insurance? The [New York Times] doesn’t say. But insurance is a prime culprit,” Kahn concludes. We know that “at least one-quarter of Covid deaths are attributable to uninsurance. Many chronic diseases are due to un- and under-insurance. Our lax gun laws and opioid regulation contribute to the accidental deaths and drug overdoses, but also reflect a sense of desperation in part driven by impaired access to health care, along with rising medical bills and medical bankruptcies. Our insurance system is failing us.”