Senator Collins Leads Hearing on Troubling Decline in U.S. Life Expectancy

New CDC data released today found that life expectancy in the U.S. fell by 1.5 years during the pandemic

COVID-19 accelerated increases in mortality driven by opioids, mental and physical health, and other factors


Kennebunk Police Chief Robert MacKenzie testified


Click HERE to read Senator Collins’ opening statement.

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ opening statement. 

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ Q&A with Chief MacKenzie. 


Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Primary Health, joined Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in leading a hearing today to examine factors that have contributed to a significant drop in life expectancy, particularly during the pandemic.


“While COVID prevention and treatment have been our primary focus over the course of the past year and a half, the pandemic and its consequences have exacerbated many of the problems that were already fueling declines in life expectancy,” said Senator Collins.  “As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, we must take stock in the areas that served us well, like telehealth -- and the areas that have worsened, like substance use disorders.  Today’s hearing explored the primary causes behind premature deaths as well as ways to improve Americans’ health and longevity.”


At Senator Collins’ invitation, Robert MacKenzie, the Chief of Police for the Kennebunk Police Department, testified.  Chief MacKenzie, a 33-year veteran of law enforcement, spoke about the impact the opioid crisis has had on his community as well as on his own family.  He also discussed his efforts through the Kennebunk Police Department and Rotary International to expand treatment resources and peer support groups.


“In the State of Maine, I remember in 2018 and 2019, the number of deaths, while still unacceptably high, was going in the right direction, it was declining,” Senator Collins told Chief MacKenzie.  “Then, Congress had passed a lot of legislation to help, including a bill that I co-authored related to opioid peer-to-peer support networks and safe disposal of unused medications….And yet, once the pandemic hit, we seemed to lose all of the progress that we made. What happened, what factors do you think, caused us to lose the ground that we were gaining?”


“Once COVID came, what we were told to do is isolate,” Chief MacKenzie responded.  “Substance use disorder is a disease of isolation. Many people that use, use in solitude. In addition, many of the resources that had become available were really no longer available, especially the peer-to-peer support, the in meeting, in-person meetings that were being held. Now, we tried to struggle through that and come and be creative and maybe do some meetings via Zoom and other platforms, but one of the issues is that many people that utilize substances do not have the resources or the ability to go online.”


During the hearing, Senator Collins identified some of the factors driving declines in life expectancy that were made worse by pandemic-related stress and isolation.  Those included:


·         Increased substance use and overdoses.  In 2020, Maine experienced a record number of losses, 504 deaths last year, which was a staggering 33 percent increase over the year before.


·         Higher levels of anxiety and other mental health issues.  A survey by the Centers for Disease Control last summer revealed that 25 percent of people ages 18-24 seriously considered suicide.


Senator Collins also highlighted ways to help reverse this trend, including:


·         Engaging local communities.  The structure and connection that can be found in employment, schooling, church, and community groups not only helps with identity and giving life a sense of purpose, but they can also be an essential source of peer support.


·         Improving health care access.  Rural Mainers working in highly physical professions, such as the farming, forestry, and fishing industries often have limited access to health care.  The Home-Based Tele-mental Health Care Act of 2020 that Senator Collins introduced with a bipartisan group last year would help by expanding tele-mental health services.


·         Management of chronic diseases.  Resources like diabetes self-management training can help change the trajectory of life expectancy.  In July, Senators Collins and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced the Expanding Access to Diabetes Self-Management Training Act.


·         Breaking the cycle of poverty.  Lower-income households often have higher rates of stress and adverse health issues.