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Excess Deaths in US in 2021: COVID + 400,000

New research finds that in 2021 the US had nearly 900,000 excess deaths compared with wealthy European countries. About half were due to COVID and half due to other factors, including health care financing and delivery.

April 6, 2023

‘Excess’ Deaths Surging, but Why?
March 29, 2023
By F. Perry Wilson

What do we mean when we say “excess mortality”? The central connotation of the idea is that there are simply some deaths that should not have occurred.

That’s what this article does, calculating excess deaths in the United States by standardizing our mortality rates to the five largest Western European countries: the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

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[E]ven before the pandemic, the United States had an excess mortality problem. This is not entirely a surprise; we’ve known that so-called “deaths of despair,” those due to alcohol abuse, drug overdoses, and suicide, are at an all-time high and tend to affect a “prime of life” population that would otherwise not be expected to die. In fact, fully 50% of the excess deaths in the United States occur in those between the ages of 15 and 64.

Excess deaths are also a concerning percentage of total deaths. In 2017, 17% of total deaths in the United States could be considered “excess.” In 2021, that number had doubled to 35%. Nearly 900,000 individuals in the United States died in 2021 who perhaps didn’t need to.

The obvious culprit to blame here is COVID, but COVID-associated excess only explains about 50% of the excess we see in 2021.

I’m sure some will take issue with the use of European numbers when applied to Americans. After all, Europe has, by and large, a robust public health service, socialized medicine, and healthcare that does not run the risk of bankrupting its citizens. How can we compare our outcomes to a place like that?

How indeed.

Dr. F. Perry Wilson is an associate professor of medicine and director of Yale’s Clinical and Translational Research Accelerator.

Comment by: Don McCanne

According to the data discussed here by Yale Professor Perry Wilson, in 2021 alone, not counting COVID deaths, about 400,000 people died who perhaps didn’t need to, deaths characterized as excess.

When compared with the five largest Western European countries, all of which have better outcomes, how indeed can we come to any other conclusion than that they have superior structural characteristics in their health systems? This includes robust public health services, socialized medicine, and healthcare financing systems that do not risk bankrupting their citizens.

Better care, for less money, that includes everyone. Sounds like something we could do – with expanded and improved, single payer, Medicare for All!

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