How Smart Benefits Increase Life Expectancy

The COVID-19 pandemic was a major contributor to U.S. life expectancy dropping by more than two years to 76.4—but that drop doesn't have to be permanent. A 2023 study by Deloitte found that by 2040, the average life expectancy could grow by 12 years if employers shift benefits toward prevention-based health care models. The study also found that Americans can live 95% of their years in good health by focusing on preventive care and population health initiatives.

This change would require a significant shift in employee health benefits that goes beyond encouraging annual wellness visits and regular cancer screenings. Below are some smart benefit strategies that increase life expectancy and improve employees’ quality of life:

Addressing root causes of negative health outcomes. Prevention-based health care models address diseases' root causes, targeting risk factors before they lead to debilitating conditions. These models focus on lifestyle interventions, such as promoting healthy diets, encouraging regular physical activity, and reducing tobacco and alcohol consumption. By addressing these factors, they tackle the underlying drivers of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and certain cancers. Consequently, individuals are less likely to develop these conditions, leading to a healthier population and a higher life expectancy.

Early detection and timely intervention. Regular health screenings, genetic testing and risk assessments enable providers to identify health issues early. By detecting conditions before they progress, interventions can be initiated promptly, leading to more effective treatments and better outcomes—all while lowering costs. For instance, identifying precancerous lesions through screenings can lead to their removal before they turn malignant, reducing cancer-related mortality rates and increasing life expectancy.

Focus on preventable diseases. Preventable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and some respiratory illnesses, can lead to many premature deaths. Prevention-based models prioritize efforts to fight these diseases by educating individuals about the risks associated with poor diet, sedentary behavior and nicotine use. Employers can offer programs and education that empower staff to make healthier choices that may lead to increased life expectancy.

Enhancing overall wellness. When employer-sponsored health plans focus on achieving and maintaining overall wellness, everyone benefits. By promoting healthy behaviors, stress management and mental health support, employers can support employees’ quality of life and long-term health. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), maintaining overall wellness can dramatically lengthen life expectancy, reducing the risk of total death, death from cancer and death from heart disease.

Promoting healthy aging. By implementing measures that prevent or delay age-related diseases and disabilities, individuals can maintain their independence and quality of life as they grow older. This results in a longer period of active and productive living, contributing to an increased life expectancy.

While the shift to preventive health care will take significant effort, employers can start now by focusing on health plans that offer telehealth, improved access to care and wellness programs. Vanderbilt Health Employer Solutions works directly with employers to offer tailored health and wellness support, including Vanderbilt Total Health, Concierge Medicine, Executive Health Physicals, MyHealth Bundles and more. Learn more here.