How do Americans die? Later than ever, it turns out. Over at Bloomberg, Matthew Klein has put together a neat collection of graphs illustrating American mortality and causes of death. The mortality rate has dropped around 17 percent since 1968. The trend towards longer life spans seems to have leveled off in the nineties, but only because the population has gotten a lot older. If you look just at younger Americans they not only continue to live longer year on year, but have seen the most gains towards life expectancy. Cancer and heart disease have become much less deadly recently. One-third of all deaths happen to those 85 and older.These statistics are a testament to the successes of our health care system, despite all the problems plaguing it. The way we package and deliver care, the perverse incentives, and the opacity of prices are driving us bankrupt, but underneath all that that, we are still doing a decent job keeping people alive longer. However, there are a few troubling stats in the Bloomberg piece, and one stands out in particular: suicide and death by drug overdose have both risen dramatically, especially for 45-54 year olds. Beneath our higher life expectancy, something is amiss in life in 21st century America.A second worry also comes out of the data: the health care system is the kind of thing that is endangered by its own success. Longer life expectancy is an achievement worth celebrating, but it will in turn put more pressure on the system. People will consume more care. Those who would otherwise have died of earlier natural causes, like heart disease, die of more prolonged illness like Alzheimer’s instead. We will need to be more creative than ever as we try to find ways to care for a population that is getting older and living longer.
Stayin' AliveAmericans Living Longer, But Not All Is Rosy
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