COVID-19 Takes a Toll on Life Expectancy in the U.S.

Life expectancy has taken a step backward in the U.S. because of the virus crisis. Yet, the risk of ongoing chronic illness and aging is still financially devastating for families.

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COVID-19 Takes a Toll on Life Expectancy in the U.S.
3 Min Read July 22nd, 2021

New data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) shows what many people have suspected all along; the virus crisis has increased mortality rates in the United States. 

The nation's usual causes of death, cancer, heart disease, and chronic lung diseases, for example, seem small due to the number of people taken by COVID-19.

In 2020, life expectancy at birth for the total U.S. population was 77.3 years, declining by 1.5 years from 78.8 in 2019, according to NCHS data. For men, life expectancy at birth was 74.5 years in 2020, a decline of 1.8 years from 76.3 years in 2019. Life expectancy for women dropped to 80.2 years, declining 1.2 years from 81.4 years in 2019.

Increased Mortality Due to COVID-19

The decline of 1.5 years in life expectancy between 2019 and 2020 was primarily due to increased mortality due to COVID-19. NCHS explains that the increases or decreases in life expectancy represent the sum of positive and negative contributions of cause-specific death rates. Declines in cause-specific mortality contribute to increases in life expectancy, while increases in cause-specific mortality contribute to decreases in life expectancy. 

If the negative contributions (i.e., increases in cause-specific death rates) are greater than the positive contributions (i.e., decreases in cause-specific deaths rates), the result is a decline in life expectancy.

The drop in life expectancy between 2019 and 2020 was primarily due to increases in mortality due to COVID-19 (73.8% of the negative contribution), unintentional injuries (11.2%), homicide (3.1%), diabetes (2.5%), and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis (2.3%).

The drop in life expectancy would have been greater if it were not for decreases in mortality due to cancer (45.2%), chronic lower respiratory diseases (CLRD) (20.8%), heart disease (5.0%), suicide (4.6%), and conditions originating in the perinatal period (4.0%).

A majority of those who died due to COVID-19 were aged 75 and above; however, 40% were younger. 

Noreen Goldman, a professor of demography and public affairs at Princeton University, says the drop in life expectancy is staggering and depressing. 

"The U.S. lags behind virtually all high-income countries in life expectancy, and now it's lagging further behind," she said.

The number of deaths due to COVID-19 has dropped as more people received vaccinations. However, infections and deaths from those who have refused vaccination are increasing.

Contribution of leading causes of death to the change in life expectancy, by sex and total population: United States, 2019–2020

Contribution of leading causes of death to the change in life expectancy, by sex and total population: United States, 2019–2020

Many Fail to Maintain Medical Care - Future Brings More Chronic Illness

Death rates from other chronic health issues like cancer and heart disease may increase in the future because some people failed to get ongoing health care and treatment for fear of COVID infection. Official life expectancy may be in flux because of these issues. 

Chronic health problems and dementia are still causing large numbers of people to need long-term health care. In 2020 much of that care moved from nursing homes and assisted living facilities to in-home care. The trend away from nursing homes was not new. 

Many family members have attempted to provide in-home care, although there has already been a move away from family caregivers due to conflicts with careers and other family responsibilities.  

Long-Term Care Costs Increasing Due to Increasing Demand

The cost of professional in-home care is increasing along with adult day care centers and other facility care. Since health insurance and Medicare pay little or nothing toward this type of care, there is expanding use of Medicaid for long-term health care. However, to qualify for Medicaid long-term care benefits, you must have little or no income and assets.

Long-Term Care Insurance will pay for all types of long-term health care, but many people delay the purchase of insurance or do not investigate insurance because they feel the cost is too great. 

Long-Term Care Insurance is custom-designed, and premiums vary over 100% between insurance companies. When purchased when you are young and healthy, premiums are very affordable for most people.

Experts suggest seeking the assistance of a licensed and experienced specialist who works with the top companies. Keep in mind that Long-Term Care Insurance is medically underwritten, so if you have substantial health issues your options may be limited or unavailable at all - Work With a Specialist | LTC News 

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Editor's Note

Longevity is still a long-term concern. With aging will come changes in our health. Our bodies change. Yes, we have a higher risk of dementia as we get older as well.

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Reverse Mortgages Can Be Part of a Plan

If you find most of your assets are tied to your home, today's reverse mortgages might help as the solution for either funding Long-Term Care Insurance or paying for care. Learn more here.

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