Live conservative, die young

Republican policies are driving U.S. lifespans backwards, doctors’ study claims

News and opinion

It’s not news that Americans’ lifespans are getting shorter. That’s been circulating for a while. But now, a new study by a group of doctors, epidemiologists, and political scientists pins the blame on Republican policies.

“Conservative policies … are the driving force behind America’s declining lifespans,” the study by eight experts published in a professional journal concluded, according to Huffington Post (story here). (Huffington Post is a news aggregation website with a liberal leaning, which automatically means a lot of conservatives won’t believe the study, even though Huffington Post didn’t write it and merely reported it.)

Stopped reading yet? If no, and still open to the factual details, the article says,

“‘Across a huge range of issues, the more liberal version of state policies predicts longer life expectancy and the conservative version predicts shorter life expectancy,’ said Jennifer Karas Montez, a sociologist at Syracuse University and the study’s lead author. Passing tougher regulations on tobacco and guns while enhancing labor rights and pay could extend U.S. life expectancy by as much as 2.8 years for women and 2.1 years for men. ‘Our findings are very powerful and very consistent,’ Montez said.”

For one thing, Republicans favor a private health care system that has left millions of Americans without health insurance, out-of-pocket health care out of reach for most, and even insured families at risk of medical bankruptcy because of coverage gaps and exclusions. That number would be far higher if government didn’t provide about half of U.S. health care through such programs as Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Affairs health care system for veterans.

Democrats have supported Obamacare, which extended health coverage to millions of people through expansion of the existing Medicaid program, and have variously supported single-payer health insurance (with government as the insurer), a public-option (in which government is the insurer of last resort, or an alternative to private insurance), and Medicare-for-all (the program currently is only for seniors over age 65).

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden supports the public-option idea. Republican presidential candidate (and incumbent president) Donald Trump wants to cut off funding for Medicare by eliminating the payroll tax that supports it, which not only would prevent expansion of health coverage to more Americans at a time of high unemployment, but also leave many of the nation’s senior citizens stranded without health coverage (some also have private insurance through pension plans or self-pay, but not all do).

Historically, Americans’ health care has been tied to their employment since World War 2, when employers began offering health insurance to attract workers in a wartime economy of wage controls and labor shortages. The idea was so popular it grew immensely after the war, into the 1950s and 1960s.

But in recent decades of wage stagnation and business instability, employers have backed out of offering benefits, and workers increasingly have had to provide their own health care and retirement, a trend accelerated by the disappearance lifetime employment, traditional pensions, and the move to a “gig” economy — all trends that have left workers more insecure and less well-off while corporations make record profits.

That has fueled leftwing political movements toward government taking over responsibility for those benefits. At the same time, rightwing politicians have stepped up attacks on existing programs, which largely benefit the middle class, and opposed even more fiercely any expansion of benefits for the working poor, who are often uninsured and can’t afford medical care.

That has led to many people seeking medical care in emergency rooms, which under law can’t turn them away. (Source of photo: Click here) These people get free care, and those costs are passed on to paying patients, insurers, and taxpayers. A decade ago, when he was a congressman, current Washington governor Jay Inslee estimated that covering uninsured patients added $1,200 a year to the health insurance premiums of insured patients. While employers, in many instances, nominally paid for this; in reality, it often was passed through to their employees in the form of larger employee insurance contributions, and lower wages or slower pay increases.

While voters in the 2020 election will be largely focused on ideologies and personalities, the election also will have a large influence on the future trajectory of the ideological conflict over health care in America, and not only at the federal level, but also in the states, where the GOP currently has 26 governors and 29 state legislatures under its control. People living in those states are at greatest risk of lowered wages (through anti-union “right to work” laws) and benefits starvation (through refusal to participate in Obamacare, fund Medicaid, etc.).

Huffington Post says, “Over the last decade, a growing body of research has found that these [GOP] policies are negatively affecting the health of constituents. In a 2017 study, researchers discovered that U.S. states with less income inequality, larger tax credits for poor workers and higher cigarette taxes had lower disability rates. According to a 2006 report, countries that spend more on early childhood education have better outcomes on a wide range of health measures, from smoking rates to cognitive development to crime rates.”

Republican resistance to helping HIV victims or drug users also is taking a toll. “Five years ago, Indiana had an unprecedented outbreak of 215 HIV infections, mostly among drug users. The vast majority of these cases, epidemiologists concluded in a 2018 study, could have been prevented if then-Gov. Mike Pence had allowed needle exchange programs. The outbreak eventually subsided when Pence reversed his conservative policy and allowed exchanges to open.”

Currently West Virginia, a state in economic decline and a hotbed of Trump supporters, is one of the nation’s worst states for drug abuse and a poster-boy state of the opioid scandal. In one West Virginia town of 280 people, more than 30 million opioid bills were delivered to three pharmacies (story here).

Huffington Post continued, “’What liberal policies have in common is that they’re ways of investing in people,’ Montez said. ‘They make sure working adults have a decent income, they have labor rights and they can breathe cleaner air. Conservative policies tend to do the opposite.”

Republicans have sought to demonize “liberals” and Democrats (who come in a range of ideological stripes, from centrist to progressive, and even a few — a very few — socialists) as evil. But Democrats favor policies that help people, and the less-educated (and presumably more susceptible to propaganda) and lower-income working-class supporters of Trump and today’s GOP are supporting a party whose policies hurt them. Sometimes they disguise their intentions by offering alternatives that aren’t what they seem (see, e.g., this article).

Call this “liberal propaganda,” or ranting, if you want; but those are the facts. (Feel free to refute them in the comments; that’s what comments are for. Note, however, our policy on links in the Commenting Policy (they’re prohibited in comments). And I’m not trying to tell anyone how to vote; I’m not so naive as to believe I could if I wanted to. And voters have differing priorities (for West Virginians, it’s the coal depression and Trump’s promise to restore coal jobs, which he can’t do; for right-to-lifers, it’s his promise to appoint anti-abortion judges).

This article is a public policy discussion, that’s all. Do whatever you want with it.

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