For the fourth year in a row, the average lifespan of Americans has declined. Following the decrease of 0.2 years from 2013 to 2014, life expectancy in the U.S. shrank another 0.1 years from 2015 to 2016. Although the change may seem minimal, it puts Americans— who, ironically, pay more for healthcare than any country on earth—even further behind the more than two dozen nationalities who already outlive us.
Given the stark contrast between the self-congratulatory reports of medical progress in the media and the sobering reality of lagging life expectancy figures, healthcare authorities are quick to pin the blame on the opioid crisis. If one understands this catastrophe as a drug problem, this assessment might seem to let American healthcare off the hook. In fact, primary responsibility for opioid deaths lies with a system that develops and produces highly addictive drugs, struggles with the management of chronic pain, and fails to successfully identify and treat many addicts.
Despite widespread agreement that the cost of medical care is bankrupting the U.S., we are frequently told that we pay a premium for the best healthcare system in the world. While it is true that the United States leads the world in cutting-edge medical research and education, high infant mortality, poor accessibility to care, and mediocre life expectancy place the United States below all of the other wealthy nations for its healthcare. As the average lifespan continues to dwindle, one has to wonder how long we will continue to put up with paying so much for a healthcare system that consistently receives failing grades?