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INFOGRAPHIC //

The Eight Americas

Universal medical insurance isn’t the golden ticket to universally improved health, warn researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health.

By Linda Keslar // Infographic by Flying Chilli // Spring 2008
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Vermont and Massachusetts have begun providing health care insurance to all their residents, and 11 other states are wrestling with ways to do so. A worthy goal, to be sure, but universal medical insurance isn’t the golden ticket to universally improved health, warn researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health.

In the most comprehensive study of life expectancy in the United States, published in 2006, Harvard researchers tracked death rates by county of residence and race, creating “race-county units.” To combine these units into a manageable number of groups, they settled on the idea of eight “Americas.” For each America, researchers estimated life expectancy, the risk of death from specific diseases at various ages, the percentage of people who had health insurance and the frequency of doctor visits. The findings: extreme differences in life expectancy—people in America 1 (Asians) live an average 13.8 years longer than those in America 8 (high-risk urban blacks)—but lack of health insurance is not the problem.

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