In what experts said is an indictment of the U.S. healthcare system and persistent economic and racial inequality, federal health researchers on Wednesday released data showing the U.S. saw the largest decline in life expectancy in nearly a century during the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic, with Americans now expected to live nearly three fewer years than they were in 2019.\r\n\r\n\u0022Has our failure to provide universal healthcare access contributed to many unnecessary deaths? Yes... Is it finally time to build an effective public health system? Yes.\u0022\r\n\r\nWhile life expectancy changes have historically been measured in months instead of years, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) reported that average life expectancy fell to 76.4 in 2021, dropping a whole year from 2020. That decline comes after life expectancy fell from nearly 79 to 77.4 between 2019 and 2020.\r\n\r\nThe pandemic drove half of the statistical decline, said the NCHS, but an increase in mortality also grew in cases of unintentional injuries—particularly drug overdoses—by nearly 16%, heart disease by more than 4%, chronic liver disease by 3%, and suicide by more than 2%.\r\n\r\n\u0022There is no doubt Covid was a contributor to the increase in mortality during the last couple of years, but it didn\u0026#039;t start these problems—it made everything that much worse,\u0022 Dr. Stephen Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, told the New York Times.\r\n\r\nChronic inequality helped drive an especially sharp decline in life expectancy among Indigenous people. Since the pandemic began, the average life expectancy of Native Americans and Alaska Natives has plummeted by more than six and a half years, dropping to age 65. Life expectancy for all Americans was 65 years nearly 80 years ago.\r\n\r\nIndigenous people have the highest rate of diabetes among any racial or ethnic group in the U.S., and are more likely to live in multigenerational households—both risk factors for severe Covid-19 infections.\r\n\r\nThe two-year decline in life expectancy in Indigenous communities was so severe, Robert Anderson, chief of mortality statistics at the NCHS, had researchers \u0022re-run the numbers to make sure.\u0022\r\n\r\n\u0022It\u0026#039;s a ridiculous decline,\u0022 Anderson told Stat News. \u0022When I saw a 6.6 year decline over two years, my jaw dropped.\u0022\r\n\r\nAmong both Black and white Americans, average life expectancy is now the lowest it\u0026#039;s been since 1995.\r\n\r\nResearchers noted that while life expectancy fell in other wealthy nations in the first year of the pandemic, several countries in the Global North have begun to recover from the decline.\r\n\r\nDr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, suggested the continued drop in life expectancy in the U.S.—despite the wide availability of Covid-19 vaccines—was tied to rampant misinformation about vaccination, the refusal of policymakers to abandon the profit-driven healthcare system and replace it with universal care, and other failures to protect public health.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u0022Did the politicized rejection of reasonable public health measures put many people in harm\u0026#039;s way? Yes,\u0022 said Sharfstein. \u0022Has our failure to provide universal healthcare access contributed to many unnecessary deaths? Yes... Is it finally time to build an effective public health system? Yes.\u0022\r\n\r\nWoolf pointed to what public health experts call \u0022the U.S. health disadvantage,\u0022 with Americans relying on a healthcare system driven by profit motives instead of public health, widespread access to guns, high levels of pollution, and economic inequality as risk factors contributing to the drop in life expectancy and overall poor health outcomes compared to other high-income countries.\r\n\r\n\u0022The U.S. is clearly an outlier,\u0022 Woolf told the Times regarding the country\u0026#039;s pandemic response and its falling average life expectancy.