Majority of medical costs associated with gun violence paid by taxpayers: Study

Mike Krumboltz
Yahoo News
Hospital personnel in a hallway

The bulk of the medical costs associated with gun violence is paid for by taxpayers, a study by the UrbanInstitute found.

The think tank focused on hospital and insurance data and concluded that Medicare and other publicly funded programs picked up the tab 52 percent of the time and that public subsidies, private charities and self-paying patients picked up the tab an additional 28 percent of the time.

Only 16 percent was paid by insurance companies. The source of payment for the remaining 4 percent of gun injuries was unknown.

Overall, U.S. hospitals spent approximately $630 million in 2010 on victims of all kinds of gun violence, from relatively minor wounds to more serious injuries that required extensive hospital stays. 

In the report, authors Embry M. Howell and Peter Abraham write, "The cost of a stay for a firearm assault injury was nearly $14,000 more than the average in-patient stay in 2010."

"I had a personal experience that led me to be interested in this issue," Howell told Yahoo News. "I was called to homicide grand jury in the District of Columbia. I began to hear the testimony from victims day after day about the costs of going to the hospital. I also had a young friend who was shot, she was someone I tutored, she was an innocent bystander."

Howell said she and Abraham began to look around for data on the topic.

"There is actually publicly available data that's collected by one of the departments of Health and Human Services," she said. The data collection wasn't "super difficult, the data was sitting out there. It just hadn't been looked at in this regard."

The study also found that "people who reside in the lowest income zip codes are about twice as likely to have an ED (Emergency Dept.) visit or be admitted to the hospital for firearm assault injuries."

By far, the most likely person to be admitted to a hospital with a gun related injury is a young male. This group is also largely uninsured.

When compared to other government costs, $630 million may sound almost low, but Howell is quick to point out that it isn't a trivial number.

"It's greater than the entire Medicaid program for the state of Wyoming," she said.

Howell also said the number is an underestimate as the data relies on emergency room hospital coding, which is not always reliable. Additionally, it does not include other medical expenses, including rehabilitation, ambulance rides, and outpatient visits.