Lower US life expectancy attributed to COVID-19, drug overdoses; suggestions to mask up lack teeth even as respiratory illnesses and hospitalizations spike; emergency department (ED) doctors look to curb private equity investments in staffing firms.
Seven months has been cut from the average American life expectancy, according to 2021 data from the CDC. NPR reported that 76.4 years is now the average life expectancy for a person born in the United States, marking the shortest life expectancy in almost 20 years. The 2 major contributors are COVID-19 and drug overdoses, particularly synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. For the second year in a row, COVID-19 is the third leading cause of death, even though deaths due to COVID-19 are decreasing. Mental health crises in young people have also contributed to the decline in life expectancy.
Despite the extreme increase in respiratory virus infections such as COVID-19, RSV, and the flu across the country, masking to reduce the spread have been heavily encouraged, but not required. The Washington Post reported that this is in part due to the polarization and politicism that is attached to the word “mandate” and the difficulty of justifying masking because of vaccine and antiviral availability. Public opinion on masking varies from that of individual choice and comfortability, to those that believe masking is a collective responsibility to protect the vulnerable. Currently, only about 30% of Americans report consistently masking when away from home, while 65% said they would “probably” mask if COVID-19 cases in their communities increase.
Emergency department (ED) providers and consumer advocates are seeking stronger enforcement of state laws that restrict the corporate ownership of medical practices, Kaiser Health News reported. Those wanting tougher enforcement are citing ED staffing companies backed by private-equity firms; the 2 largest are Envision Healthcare, owned by investment giant KKR & Co., and TeamHealth, owned by Blackstone. A federal lawsuit against Envision is scheduled to start in January 2024. The suit was filed by American Academy of Emergency Medicine Physician Group, which charges that Envision “uses shell business structures to retain de facto ownership of ER staffing groups, and it is asking the court to declare them illegal,” Kaiser said.