Column: With U.S. life expectancy gains down, tax bill will make things worse

The Republican tax bill approved by Congress this week will create financial headaches for millions of taxpayers trying to navigate all the new rates and rules.

But the legislation now headed for President Donald Trump’s signature also will have this grim impact: thousands of additional, preventable deaths every year.

Daniel Kim, a social epidemiologist and professor at Northeastern University in Boston has spent more than a decade studying the effects of income inequality on public health, and recently published a study comparing the impacts of a 2016 Trump campaign tax plan with one proposed during the presidential race by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

The Trump tax plan differs in some respects from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), which was approved by Congress this week and is headed to the president for his signature. But Kim concludes its impact on mortality will be as bad or worse.

“All signs suggest that the tax bill will disproportionately benefit corporations and the wealthy, rather than the middle class,” Kim said. “And what we know from numerous health studies is that a wider gap between the rich and the poor means that more people will die unnecessarily.”

Social epidemiologists like Kim study the impacts of our social and economic environments on health. Social determinants such as income inequality, poverty, and education shape our diets, attitudes toward smoking, and stress levels and are considered root causes of poor health and disease.

Kim’s analysis is based on a representative sample of nearly 140,000 IRS tax records, which he used to calculate after-tax income and income inequality, and then under each tax plan project changes in the numbers of deaths of Americans from all causes.

Along with the Trump plan, he also analyzed the impacts of taxing the rich at much higher levels, including as proposed during the campaign by Senator Sanders. His key findings: that the Sanders plan could save roughly 30,000 lives per year – the total opposite effect of the Trump plan.

Raising the top marginal income tax rates to even higher levels last used in the 1970s would spare nearly 70,000 lives per year – and those benefits could be magnified by simply taking the newly collected tax revenue and redistributing it to poorer households. That could save an eye-popping 333,000 deaths per year.

Concludes Kim: “Supporters of this tax bill call this a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform taxes in America. But really, it represents a tragic lost opportunity to help the middle class and improve the life expectancy of all Americans.”