By Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.
The Center for Disease Control has published its life expectancy data for 2017 and all the wrong lessons are being taken from it.
The overall finding is that the life expectancy for Americans declined in 2017 to 78.6 years of age from 78.7 years of age in 2016. As predicted, the finding was taken as a call to arms by members of the left who immediately concluded the cause of the diminishing numbers was America’s failing health care system.
Appearing in Neil Cavuto’s Show, yesterday, Dr. Roshini Raj from the NYU Medical Center, summed up her conclusions this way, “The healthcare system does not seem to be working when we compare ourselves with those of countries like Japan or Sweden who have a life expectancy into the 80s.”
The reality is that the data reported by the CDC does not in any way support Dr. Raj’s conclusion.
In fact, during the same interview, Dr. Raj, seemed to inadvertently dismissed the validity of her own conclusions by saying, “Today, the CDC said that part of it is drug overdose and suicide.” And when asked about asked about the big picture that was causing the problems, she said, “We are a sedentary nation. We are an obese nation. We are a stressed-out nation.”
In fact, her suggestions for improvement centered on enacting policies designed to reduce stress in the workplace.
There isn’t a single piece of information produced by the CDC yesterday that would point to a deteriorating health care system or a poorly functioning one as the cause of the decrease in life expectancy.
In fact, the opposite may be true. For example, although the overall life expectancy dropped, the death rate amongst members of every age group except 25-44 year-olds and those over 84 years of age actually improved. Indeed, in those groups engaged in greater health care consumption and therefore more impacted by its quality (the 45-74 year olds) the mortality actually dropped.
And although one could correctly argue that 85 year-olds and older are also consumers of healthcare, the issues at play in this group are much more complicated and no conclusion could be gleamed from the data available. It was in those age groups that are not large consumers of health care where the mortality rate rose.
So, if it isn’t healthcare, what could be causing the death rates of 25-44 year-olds to rise so precipitously? The CDC, Dr. Raj, and even the Wall Street Journal answered this question: accidents and suicides made for a rising incidence of deaths, with smaller increases from pneumonia and influenza.
Indeed, for the two biggest killers and the two most directly affected by the quality of healthcare delivered — heart disease and cancer — the death rates diminished markedly. (See Tables below.)
Two conclusions can be made even from this cursory review of the data. The first, ironically enough, is that no conclusion can be made from the data available regarding any relationship between our healthcare system and the changes in mortality rate. Second, if there are any implications from the data, it is that issues of lifestyle and drug use are the primary drivers of life expectancy.
It is very easy to spin large, overarching information like mortality data and life expectancy in a direction that you want simply to make a point, and the left does this with impunity.
Over the next few weeks, I predict you will hear many slights against our healthcare system based on the most recent CDC life expectancy data. When you do, be assured of this: there isn’t a shred of evidence upon which to base a conclusion that America’s healthcare system is to blame for this diminution in life expectancy numbers. Rather, it is likely the bias of the speaker you’re listening to and not the science.
Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopaedic surgeon and lawyer living in Venice, Florida. He is the author of The Federalist Pages and cohost of Right Talk America With Julio and Rod. Dr. Gonzalez is presently serving in the Florida House of Representatives. He can be reached through www.thefederalistpages.com to arrange a lecture or book signing.