I ran across this the other day from researchers with the U.S. National Institutes of Health (emphasis added).

Based on research showing that uninsured adults are 25 percent more likely to die than insured adults, we estimate that about 18,000 Americans age 25 to 64 may die prematurely each year because they lack insurance coverage and access to the effective health care that it can provide.

Now, in one way of looking at it, this is a national tragedy: 18,000 unnecessary deaths, each year, caused by a lack of universal coverage.

But another way of looking at it is this: based on these numbers, life expectancy in the U.S. would rise by only about 2 or 3 months if health coverage were universal. That would barely make a dent in the United States’ four year lifespan deficit vs. Japan—or the more than two and a half year gap between BC and the Northwest states (OR, ID, and WA).

My point isn’t that universal health coverage isn’t a good thing. Quite the reverse—universal coverage would save lives. But if we’re really going to improve the health of Northwesterners, we should also look beyond the health care system, and towards the underlying factors—social isolation, widening income disparities, suburban designs that promote sedentary lifestyles, our food environments—that may have just as much impact on health as does our health care system.