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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Progress in treating heart disease, cancer and stroke were helping to drive the improvement in Americans' life expectancy before the opioid crisis sent it tumbling, according to a new study in Health Affairs.

By the numbers: From 1990 to 2015, Americans' average life expectancy rose by 3.3 years. The study attributes 1.76 years of that improvement to reduced mortality from heart disease, 0.34 years from lung cancer and 0.33 years to improved care for stroke.

Between the lines: This is what's supposed to happen — advancements in care and better public-health awareness are supposed to help life expectancy tick up every year.

  • In the years just after this study cuts off, though — beginning in 2015 — American life expectancy declined for four years in a row, for the first time in decades, because of the opioid epidemic.
  • It began to rebound again in 2018, according to CDC data.

Go deeper

Dec 10, 2020 - Health

Health disparities are worse in the U.S.

Data: Doty, et al., 2020, "Income-Related Inequality In Affordability And Access To Primary Care In Eleven High Income Countries"; Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Socioeconomic disparities in health care are significantly worse in the U.S. than in other wealthy countries, according to a new study by the Commonwealth Fund, published in Health Affairs.

Why it matters: Wealthy Americans have long had better access to care — and therefore better outcomes — than poor Americans. And the coronavirus' disproportionate impact on low-income Americans and people of color has made those disparities glaringly obvious.

Updated Dec 8, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: The future of health care payments

On Tuesday, November 9 Axios' Caitlin Owens and Sam Baker hosted a conversation on the future of health care payments, featuring New Enterprise Associates Head of Global Healthcare Mohamad Makhzoumi and Cedar Co-founder and CEO, Florian Otto.

Florian Otto discussed the obstacles to creating a seamless health care payment system and the systemic problems that challenge American health care.

  • On the scope of medical billing's communication problem: "Millions of patients have the same problem: they don't understand the medical bills, they don't get the medical bill, and they land in collections for no real reason. It's really interesting to see that out of the 50 million people and have a bad credit score because of medical debt.
  • On the three key issues in the American healthcare system: "The first big problem is that patients don't really know what they are owed before the visit...The second is the tools and systems that these health care systems use...The third is all this insurance eligibility, determining the co-payment, the coinsurance and the deductible."

Mohamad Makhzoumi discussed how the health care has been impacted by COVID-19 and its acceleration of trends across the industry.

  • On how the pandemic has changed health care: "It's advancing a lot of the trends that have that had been growing but not penetrating health care to a large extent. You think about virtual care and you think about virtual pharmacy, you think about tech disintermediation inside of health care. You think about consumer choice and advocacy."
  • On disruption in the healthcare system: "Primary care is the front door for health care. It's how most of us as Americans access downstream health care, how we get to specialists...That is a part of the healthcare continuum that had yet to be disrupted."

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with Waystar CEO Matt Hawkins, who unpacked simplifying health care payments and his belief in positively changing the industry.

  • "There are a lot of smart people focused on improving the way health care is administered in the United States. And as we all have seen, there's a lot of private equity and venture capital investments being made in transforming health care as it exists today. So I'm confident that we're going to make tremendous progress more than we've ever made in the next three to five years."

Thank you Waystar for sponsoring this event.

40 mins ago - Health

WHO says Omicron poses "very high" risk

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaking in Geneva in October. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization said Monday in a new risk assessment that it believes the COVID-19 Omicron variant poses a "very high" risk to the globe because it may be more transmissible than other strains of the virus.

Why it matters: Though the WHO acknowledged there are still many uncertainties associated with the variant, the agency said it believes the likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron around the world is "high."

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