What We’re Reading: Delta Variant Cases Rise; Life Expectancy Drops; US Medical Debt Reaches $140 Billion

COVID-19 cases and deaths rise as Delta variant spreads; Lowest life expectancy since 2003; US medical debt nearly doubles in 4 years.

Delta Variant Makes Up for 83% of US COVID-19 Cases

The CDC says the Delta variant makes up 83% of sequenced COVID-19 cases in the United States, STAT News reports. The variant also may be responsible for up to 90% of cases in areas with low vaccination rates. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, calls this “a dramatic increase” from the week of July 3, when the Delta variant made up for 50% of sequenced cases. COVID-19 deaths have also increased, rising by nearly 48% in the past week with an average of 239 deaths per day. “We know the majority of deaths could be prevented by vaccination,” Walensky said.

US Life Expectancy Dropped 1.5 Years in 2020

Largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, life expectancy in the United States dropped by 1.5 years, according to The New York Times. The article says if an American child was born today and lived their entire life under the conditions of 2020, they would be expected to live 77.3 years, down from 78.8 years in 2019. This is the lowest life expectancy since 2003 and disproportionately lowered for Black and Hispanic Americans. The life expectancy for Black Americans dropped from 74.7 to 71.8, and from 81.8 to 78.8 for Hispanic Americans. This drop is not likely to be permanent.

US Medical Debt Totals $140 Billion

Medical debt among Americans has nearly doubled in 4 years, according to The New York Times. Research published in JAMA Network Tuesday says collection agencies held $140 billion in unpaid medical bills in 2020, compared to $81 billion in 2016, and 17.8% of US ind ividuals had medical debt in June 2020. This only accounts for debts sold to collections agencies and does not yet reflect data during the pandemic. Debt is also largest in the states where Medicaid has not expanded, with those Americans owing an average of $375 more than those in states with Medicaid expansion in 2020, further increasing the gap that existed the year before enactment by about 30%.