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By Bill Diem

The Tahquamenon area is a healthy place to live. The average lifespan in Luce and Mackinac counties is respectively 82 and 83 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The average lifespan in Michigan is 77 years and the United States is 78.

An average life span of 83 years is the same as in Spain and Italy, according to research by the Organization of Economically Developed Countries. (Japan and Switzerland, at 84, have the longest life expectancy of any country in the world.)

“Life expectancy reflects a neighborhood’s safety, the quality of its health care, its environment, and the wealth and mental health of the people who live there,” according to the qz.com website that hosts an interactive map of U.S. census tracts.

U.P. neighborhoods are generally good for safety and environment and not so good for wealth. I don’t know about mental health and health care quality.

Americans have a tendency to say that the United States has the best health care in the world, even though it ranks below many countries in reports by international groups.

Jim White, the CEO of a North Carolina company called Babykixx, offered a clear explanation on a website:

“We have what I call a ‘heroic’ healthcare system that is a marvel when it comes to treating tragedy and serious disease. Wealthy people fly from all over the world to be treated for heart disease, cancer and many rare diseases,” he wrote. However, he said, persistent healthcare is more important to most Americans, because “chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, COPD are the challenges that almost 45% of U.S. households experience. … Our system was built to save your life. Not keep you healthy.”

Choosing between “heroic” health care and “persistent” health care would be just another debate if price was not a factor. In the United States, health care costs $10,586 per person per year, the highest in the world by far. In Italy and Spain, with their 83-year lifespans, the cost of health care is $3,375.

AXA is one of the biggest insurance companies In Europe. AXA CEO Thomas Buberl talked to journalists from the Anglo-American Press Association in Paris about the US health care system.

“You can also ask yourself about the efficiency of the system,” he said. “That probably needs to be improved.

“If you look at the U.S. today, it is the country with the highest expense per GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of health. I think it’s 18.7%. And if you look, 12% of that is the true medical expense, the other 6 point something is the delivery of it,” or the profit margins of hospitals, insurers, etc.

All European countries and many others have national health care systems, where people are compelled to pay taxes or buy insurance to cover the health care cost. Some as in France (per person expense $4,965, lifespan 83) are run by governments, said Buberl, and some are managed by insurers, as in Netherlands and Switzerland. He said he prefers the Swiss system, where residents are required to have insurance, but the insurance companies together negotiate the cost of health services, and they all charge about the same premium. In Switzerland, the cost of health is $7,317 per person, and life expectancy is 84 years.