Health Care

COVID, drug overdoses drive life expectancy drop

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According to Dolly Parton, there is a “really good song” of hers locked up in Dollywood that won’t be released until 2045. How can we be expected to wait that long!

Today in health, new reports from the CDC found the drop in U.S. life expectancy in 2021 was largely driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and drug overdoses, placing the country at the level it was in 1996.

Welcome to The Hill’s Health Care newsletter, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. For The Hill, we’re Nathaniel Weixel and Joseph Choi. Subscribe here or in the box below.

US life expectancy dropped by 7 months last year

The average U.S. life expectancy shortened by seven months in 2021, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), driven mainly by COVID-19 and drug overdoses from synthetic opioids. 

  • According to a pair of CDC reports, life expectancy dropped for the second consecutive year, from 77 years to 76.4 years. This follows a major drop of 1.8 years in 2020, putting life expectancy from birth at about the same level it was in 1996.
  • Nine of the 10 leading causes of death in 2020 were the same in 2021. Heart disease was the main cause of death, followed by cancer and COVID-19, which took nearly 417,000 lives last year, an increase of 18.8 percent from 2020, despite the release of new vaccines. 

Across the board: Every age group in the nation — from 1-year-olds to people age 85 and older — saw a decrease in life expectancy. Life expectancy for women is 79.9 years, about six years longer than men, but they both experienced the same decline.

Almost all racial groups also saw an increase in death rates, except for non-Hispanic Asian males and non-Hispanic Black males, which saw a slight decrease. 

About 3.46 million people died in the U.S. last year, according to CDC, an increase of 80,502 more deaths than in 2020. Deaths by suicide and from liver disease caused by alcohol also increased, contributing to the shorter American lifespan. Flu and pneumonia rates decreased, as parts of the U.S. population took precautions against the coronavirus and wore masks. 

Read more here. 

Pediatric medicine makers rush to meet demand

Pediatric medicine manufacturers told the White House this week they are operating their facilities 24/7 in order to meet demand as parents across the U.S. still deal with medicine shortages brought on by the spread of COVID-19, the flu and RSV.

  • According to a readout released on Thursday, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Robert Califf held conversations with the senior leadership of major medicine manufacturers and distributors.
  • Among those who spoke with Becerra and Califf were the pharmaceutical companies Perrigo and Johnson & Johnson. 

“All the companies shared that they are running manufacturing facilities 24-7 to meet demand, supplies of these products are being replenished as quickly as possible, and there is no widespread shortage of pediatric medicines,” HHS said in a statement. 

The recent increased severity of respiratory viral spread in the U.S. has resulted in major pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS limiting the amount of child pain medication that customers can buy at one time. 

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have jumped in the past few weeks. Cases of common viruses like RSV and the flu, meanwhile, rose earlier this year than they have previously, hitting hospitals hard and leaving many at capacity.  

According to the most recent influenza report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity remains high but appears to be declining in some parts of the country. 

Read more here. 


A study published Thursday in JAMA Network Open claims that women who conceive while following the Mediterranean diet have a “significantly” lower risk of developing preeclampsia during their pregnancy.

Researchers from the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai monitored nearly 7,800 expecting mothers between 2010 and 2013 for the study and analyzed their findings between June 2021 and April 2022, according to the study.

  • Researchers collected data on the mother’s food habits during the three months around conception to evaluate their adherence to a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes plant-based food, whole grains and healthy fats.
  • Mothers were each given a score from 0 to 9 based on their diet. Researchers found that mothers with a “high Mediterranean Diet score” or a score between 6 to 9 were connected to a 21 percent lower risk of developing any adverse pregnancy outcomes like preeclampsia.
  • Those same mothers had a 28 percent lower risk of developing preeclampsia and eclampsia.

Preeclampsia is a potentially life-threatening pregnancy complication that can cause high blood pressure and put stress on a mother’s heart. If left untreated, the condition can weaken blood supply to a developing fetus and weaken a mother’s kidney and liver function.

Read more here. 

Why you should be careful with that eggnog

While eggnog is the traditional go-to holiday drink in many U.S. households, there are some risks with imbibing in the sweet, sometimes boozy, dairy-based beverage.

  • The drink is made by mixing milk, sugar, cream, nutmeg and raw eggs — which is where any potential danger lies when guzzling down glasses of the libation.
  • Raw or undercooked eggs can contain that pesky bacterium called salmonella, which can spark a life-threatening infection that first appears as diarrhea, vomiting, cramps and fever.   

Vanessa Coffman, director of the Alliance to Stop Foodborne Illness, said a salmonella infection can be particularly harmful in children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with autoimmune diseases.

Read the full story here.

Senate votes to protect pregnant, breastfeeding workers

Senators on Thursday added a list of amendments to a sweeping 4,155-page government funding bill that now heads to the House. 

During the hours-long voting session, senators voted on a series of 15 amendments, ranging from measures that sought to extend a Trump-era immigration policy to legislation aimed at expanding protections for breastfeeding workers. 

The Pump Act: The Senate approved adding the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers (PUMP) Act, which seeks to strengthen breastfeeding protections for workers, in a 92-5 vote. 

  • Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who co-sponsored the bill, called its passage “a win that’s been years in the making” in a tweet published moments later.
  • “Everyone should have the space and privacy to pump at work, and no one should be forced by their employer to stop nursing,” he said. 

Pregnant Fairness Workers Act: The Senate voted 73-24 to adopt an amendment brought by Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) to attach the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to the omnibus.  

A release from the office of Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who has also been pushing for the legislation, said the bill follows a model similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act and would “require employers to make reasonable accommodations to allow pregnant workers to continue working safely, such as additional bathroom breaks, light duty, or a stool to sit on if a worker stands all day.” 

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) lauded the vote in a statement, calling it “one of the most significant improvements to workplace protections in years.”

Read more here. 


  • Pandemic response gets a permanent new home at the White House (Stat
  • ER doctors call private equity staffing practices illegal and seek to ban them (Kaiser Health News
  • Why mask mandates aren’t coming back even though covid is (The Washington Post)


  • ‘Major trustee, please prioritize’: How NYU’s E.R. favors the rich (The New York Times
  • Arizona Poison and Drug Information System warn about increased danger of illicit drugs due to xylazine contamination (KVOA
  • COVID hospitalization levels for NC’s oldest old exceed pre-vaccine period (North Carolina Health News

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Health Care page for the latest news and coverage. See you tomorrow.

Tags COVID-19 Dolly Parton life expectancy Overdose Robert Califf Xavier Becerra

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