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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 7:23 a.m., Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Hawaii tops nation for life expectancy, study finds

By Theresa Barry
Bloomberg News Service

New York residents had the biggest gain in longevity from 1991 to 2004, and one reason was access to new medications, a study showed.

But the highest life expectancy in the nation is claimed by Hawai'i, at 81.3 years, the study said.

New York's 4.3-year increase pushed a resident's life expectancy at birth to 79.2 years, according to a Manhattan Institute for Policy Research report. California was second, gaining 3.4 years from 1991 to 2004, followed by New Jersey, Illinois and Connecticut, the study showed.

States that had quicker growth in access to new drugs for Medicare and Medicaid patients were more likely to see longevity increases that exceeded the average U.S. gain of 2.33 years, according to the report.

"What I've found out is that medical innovation is responsible for most longevity increases in the U.S.," said Frank Lichtenberg, the study's author, in a telephone interview from New York today. "People should be aware of this in the debate about risks versus benefits in medical innovation."

Obesity, smoking and AIDS slowed longevity increases, the report showed. Also, as state incomes rose, gains in life expectancy lessened.


"If obesity and income had not increased, life expectancy at birth would have increased by 3.88 years, not just 2.33," said Lichtenberg, the Courtney C. Brown Professor of Business at Columbia University, in the report.

Excluding the effect of obesity and income, greater access to new drugs would have accounted for 63 percent of that potential increase in longevity, said Lichtenberg, also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, based in Cambridge, Mass.

Lichtenberg's primary measure of access to new prescription drugs used data from Medicaid, the government health plan for the poor. States with the biggest jump in newer medicines for those patients included California, New Jersey and Connecticut, with Illinois and New York in the next tier.

The researcher also measured medicines doctors administered to Medicare patients, such as chemotherapy, a much smaller group. Medicare is the federal health program for the elderly and disabled.


California's longevity increased to 79.5 years, according to the study. New Jersey added 3.3 years, raising the state's life expectancy to 78.9 years; Illinois increased its longevity rate by 3 years to 77.9 years, and Connecticut gained 2.7 years, to 79.9 years, according to the report.

The highest life expectancy in the nation is claimed by Hawai'i, at 81.3 years, the study said. It was followed by Minnesota, 80.3 years; Connecticut, 79.9; North Dakota, 79.9, and Vermont, 79.6, the study showed. New York ranks in 11th place and California as sixth.

Lichtenberg's research was financed by the nonprofit Manhattan Institute in New York. Drug companies paid for some of his previous research.