Study finds that roughly 40% of the USA’s coronavirus deaths could have been prevented

February 12, 2021

About 40% of the nation’s coronavirus deaths could have been prevented if the United States’ average death rate matched that of other industrialized nations, a new Lancet Commission report on public policy and health during the Trump era has found, USA Today reports.

The commission faulted former President Donald Trump’s “inept and insufficient” response to COVID-19, but its report also finds that the roots of the nation’s poor health outcomes are much deeper.

Commission co-chairs Dr. Steffie Woolhandler and Dr. David Himmelstein— professors at the City University of New York’s Hunter College and longtime advocates for a single-payer health system, such as Medicare for All—said the report, published on Thursday, February 11, underscores decades of health, economic and social policies that have accelerated the nation’s disparities.

The report found U.S. life expectancy began trailing other industrialized nations four decades ago. In 2018, two years before the pandemic, the report said 461,000 fewer Americans would have died if U.S. mortality rates matched other Group of Seven nations: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.

“The overriding thing that we need to do in our country is to decrease the huge and widening inequalities that have emerged in our nation,” Himmelstein told USA Today.

Indeed, the report finds that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color—with the death rates among Blacks increasing 50%, compared with whites. Coronavirus deaths for people of color are 1.2 times to 3.6 times higher than for whites; the disparities were especially high among middle-aged adults, possibly a sign of crowded living conditions and jobs that did not allow people to safely distance..

Public health measures such as mask wearing and physical distancing could have saved lives, Woolhandler said, but Trump failed to create a national response— instead leaving crucial decisions to states.

His actions “caused a lot of citizens to fail to take it seriously and interfered with the kind of coordinated response they have been able to use in a lot of countries that are more successful than the U.S. in controlling the epidemic,”  Woolhandler said.

“We’re still in a very deep hole. We have 30 million uninsured people. We have tens of millions of more who are underinsured,” Woolhandler said. “The thing that would be best for the health of the population would be Medicare for All.

“A Medicare for All program would substantially increase economic equality,” Himmelstein said. “Poor people spend a much larger share of their incomes for their healthcare even though they get much less for their healthcare.”

Woolhandler and Himmelstein are co-founders of Physicians for a National Health Program, which advocates for a single-payer health system.

Research contact: @USATODAY

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