The death of so many Medicare beneficiaries due to Covid-19 has been largely left out of the conversation about the recent improvement of the program’s finances. While this improved outlook may seem to be a blessing in disguise, it is important to acknowledge the glaringly unequal impact of Covid-19 on seniors and Americans overall.
The U.S. experienced an unprecedented decline in life expectancy compared to other well-off countries, which disproportionately affected seniors with existing health conditions — a sad truth that has led to doubts of a “natural” occurrence. As the Journal of Economic Perspectives recently reported, a number of statistical analyses point to a political explanation.
Four decades of life expectancy lagging in America have led to a stark geographic divide in health. Coastal cities have experienced far less decline than the South and the eastern heartland, a worrying divergence that began in the 1990s. And with the rise of the Trump administration, the mortality gap between blue and red-leaning states has widened.
Evidence points to political factors, such as the adoption of health-improving policies in high-income states which low-income states have either been unable or unwilling to adopt. States with a higher wage gap face larger mortality gaps and the failure to expand Medicaid across many low-income states has led to the closure of many hospitals. Moreover, the slower rate of vaccine uptake among red-state communities can only be explained by political ideologies.
By ignoring this widening life expectancy gap between red and blue states, we risk normalizing political passivity, and as a result, arriving at a false sense of security which is devoid of any real solution. We must take a hard look at the policies, behaviors, and conversations that brought us to this point, and use them to spark a much-needed change.
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