NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 24, 2008

Life-spans in some parts of the United States have actually declined in the last quarter-century, according to Harvard University researchers.  Still the most common fix bandied about by policymakers -- covering the uninsured -- likely wouldn't do enough on its own to reverse the life-expectancy slide, say the authors of the study.

Even if everyone were insured, we'd still be seeing most of the pattern that we're seeing here, Christopher Murray, a coauthor of the study and director of the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.


  • Comparing the 18,000 or so deaths resulting from lack of insurance to those killed by the deadliest chronic conditions underscores this point, says Murray.
  • The number of deaths attributable to those risk factors are many, many times bigger, each on their own, than deaths attributable to lack of insurance.

So what to do instead of insuring everyone?

  • Tackle chronic diseases where life-expectancy has declined, says Murray.
  • In the meantime, collect more data; it's hard to get a good picture of the health of a given county -- much less a city or neighborhood.

The U.S. medical system doesn't do enough to treat the chronic conditions that often lead to hospitalizations and cause many deaths and considerable expense, says Noreen Clark, director of the University of Michigan's Center for Managing Chronic Disease.

There's really a fundamental structural kind of problem in the system.  We've taken an acute-care system and tinkered around the edges and tried to pretend we're actually dealing with the chronic conditions, says Clark.

Source: Theo Francis, "Would Universal Coverage Lengthen Life Expectancies?" Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2008.

For text: 


Browse more articles on Health Issues