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Betsy McCaughey: Thank the government's failure against fentanyl for America's shortest life expectancy in 25 years

It's one thing when government raises your taxes, suffocates your business with regulations or censors your tweets. It's far worse when government is to blame for actually shortening your life.

US life expectancy dropped to 76.4 years, the lowest in a quarter-century, according to new federal data. Americans should be gasping. What could be more important than having the chance to live a long life?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention repeatedly has blown its response to mega health killers like fentanyl, COVID and lung cancer. All the while, life expectancy gets shorter and shorter.

Americans had one of the best life expectancies in the world in 1980. Since then, the United States has lost ground. People live several years longer in France, Switzerland, Italy and other highly developed countries, reaching ages 83 or 84 on average. Residents of the Czech Republic, Chile and Slovenia also can expect longer lives than Americans.

Even before COVID, the United States ranked 29th in life expectancy, per the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The virus merely widened an already-alarming gap between America and other nations.

Now life expectancy in these other countries is rebounding from COVID, while American lives continue to be cut short due to other causes.

Start with the failure of our government, especially the CDC, to tackle the leading cause of death among Americans ages 18 to 49: overdosing. Two-thirds of these deaths are from fentanyl. Nearly 107,000 Americans died of overdoses in 2021, 50% more than just two years earlier.

Where's the campaign to combat fentanyl deaths? Over the last half-century, US health agencies waged several stunningly successful media offensives to dissuade Americans from smoking cigarettes. The CDC has done nothing like that to fight this new killer.

Blame the agency's mission confusion. In September 2021, as overdoses soared and COVID raged, the CDC launched a campaign for "Inclusive Communication." The agency instructed health-care workers to avoid stigmatizing words like "illegal immigrant" and substitute "parent" for gender-tainted terms like "mother" and "father." As if political correctness is more important than preventing deaths.

The CDC's failed response to COVID further depressed American life expectancy. Agency head Rochelle Walensky said, "To be frank, we are responsible for some pretty dramatic, pretty public mistakes, from testing to data to communications." The United States has had a higher per capita death rate from COVID than other developed countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Canada.

As COVID fades, the CDC's inaction on another front – lung-cancer screening – is limiting progress on life expectancy for cancer patients, in which America is otherwise a leader.

Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer, taking 130,000 lives a year. That's more than breast, prostate and colon cancer deaths combined. Because lung cancer is rarely diagnosed before it spreads, the chances of survival are an abysmal 18%.

But when lung cancer is diagnosed early with a CT chest scan, a patient has an 80% chance of living another 20 years, reports Claudia Henschke, a radiology expert at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine in New York City. That sure beats 18%.

The scan takes 15 minutes lying flat on a table that glides in and out of the scanning machine. There's no squeezing like with a mammogram and no yucky preparation like with a colonoscopy.

The technology is widely available, recommended by the US Preventive Services Task Force and covered by insurance, but few doctors know to order it and few patients know to ask. Fault the CDC for this knowledge gap. Only 15% of Americans who need lung screening are getting it.

Getting all Americans who are eligible screened for cancers would likely enable the country to cut cancer deaths by nearly 50% – President Joe Biden's moonshot goal – without any new scientific breakthroughs.

Last week, the White House announced a pilot project to "screen and treat" cancer. Oh, sorry, that's not for the United States. It's for women in Botswana.

Is that what Biden had in mind when he said curing cancer "is one of the reasons why I ran for president"? Laughable if it weren't so tragic.

Americans were told a decade ago the biggest health challenge was the uninsured. Congress passed ObamaCare. Now only 8% of Americans are uninsured, but the whole nation faces the prospect of shorter life expectancy.

For those lost years, you can thank federal health officials, especially the dysfunctional CDC. Call it the Centers for Decline and Confusion.

Betsy McCaughey is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths and a former lieutenant governor of New York.

Twitter: @Betsy_McCaughey

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Posted: December 27, 2022 Tuesday 08:26 PM