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Preventable deaths are rising across America, Commonwealth Fund finds


In its annual scorecard on the performance of state health systems, the organization sees some disturbing trends. Among them: a ‘startling’ rise in deaths among women.

More Americans are dying of preventable illnesses and conditions, according to an analysis by the Commonwealth Fund. (Image credit: ©Soonthorn - stock.adobe.com)

More Americans are dying of preventable illnesses and conditions, according to an analysis by the Commonwealth Fund. (Image credit: ©Soonthorn - stock.adobe.com)

More Americans are dying due to preventable illnesses and conditions, according to a new report from the Commonwealth Fund.

In all states, more people are losing their lives from “avoidable” deaths such as cancer and diabetes, according to the Commonwealth Fund’s latest scorecard on state health performance.

The Commonwealth Fund examined preventable deaths before the age of 75 from 2020-21, and found a sharp rise from 2018-19. The report notes that patients can survive chronic illnesses such as cancer with timely and appropriate care, which is why those deaths are considered avoidable.

COVID-19 is the driving force behind the rise in mortality rates, the report notes. However, more deaths are tied to firearms, with nearly 49,000 gun-related deaths in 2021, a 23% increase from 2019.

However, the report also notes that deaths from chronic illnesses were higher in 2021 than in 2019.

“Delays in routine and preventive care amid the pandemic’s disruptions may have contributed to the increase,” the report states.

While preventable deaths rose in every state, five states experienced noteworthy increases in deaths that could have been avoided: Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas. Each of the five states saw the preventable death rate rise by more than 35%. Arizona had the highest increase, with a 45% uptick.

In most states, Black Americans and American Indian/Alaskan Natives had the highest rates of preventable deaths, the report stated. The Commonwealth Fund cites a host of factors, including structural racism, disparities in patient care, and discriminatory policies and practices in housing, education and health insurance.

The report also notes a chilling trend in the rise of fatal overdoses and deaths by suicide.

In 2021, the combined deaths from drug overdoses, alcohol and suicide surpassed 200,000 for the first time ever, which is 50,000 higher than in 2019, which was the prepandemic high. Fatal drug overdoses rose from 70,000 in 2019 to more than 106,000 in 2021, the report notes.

More deaths among women

For the first time, the Commonwealth Fund’s scorecard included categories examining women’s health, and the report noted a “startling” increase in mortality rates in younger women.

The report highlighted the mortality rate for women between the ages of 15 and 44. Looking at deaths of all causes, the mortality rate rose from 89.4 deaths per 100,000 women in 2019 to 124.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2021, an increase of nearly 40%.

“The increase included not only more maternal deaths but also other preventable deaths such as those from COVID-19, substance use, and additional conditions,” the report states.

The report also notes that the data for 2021 provides a useful baseline to assess the impact on women’s health of the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning abortion rights, leaving the issue to the states. Some states have passed measures barring virtually all abortions in the wake of the ruling.

States shining and lagging

The scorecard ranks individual states by the performance of their healthcare systems, and New England states dominated most of the top spots.

Massachusetts ranked at the top of the list, followed by Hawaii, and the next four states came from New England: New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and Connecticut.

Mississippi ranked at the bottom of the Commonwealth Fund’s scorecard. The others in the bottom five: West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas.

Looking forward, the Commonwealth Fund notes that some COVID-19 policies offering more Americans health coverage are waning, and that could make it harder for some to get the care they need.

Read more: More than 1 million have lost Medicaid coverage, and hospitals are seeing the effects

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