Taxpayers are spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year to care for the victims of gun violence, according to a report from the Urban Institute released Friday.
About 80 percent of the cost of treating victims of gun violence in 2010 was borne in part by taxpayers, according to an analysis of hospital and insurance data by researchers at the nonpartisan think tank. That means taxpayers paid for victims' care either through government programs like Medicaid or through publicly-funded programs that subsidize hospital care for those who don't have insurance and can’t afford to pay.
“The victims are concentrated among young, poor males,” said the report's author, Embry Howell, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “This is the population we’re talking about and their costs are very high. It's one group that is heavily uninsured."
Hospitals in the U.S. spent $630 million in 2010 treating the victims of gun violence -- everything from minor gunshot wounds to injuries that required days-long stays -- and public funds provided most of that money. The Medicaid costs of gun violence alone that year amounted to approximately $327 million.
Notably, the report found that the average cost of a hospital visit for a gun violence victim is $14,000 more than that of the average hospital stay, due to the severity of the injuries often involved.
Lawmakers could significantly shrink these costs by making firearms less widely available, Howell said.
“This is a preventable cost. If more could be done to prevent these firearm incidents, then the cost will go down,” she said. “Society is paying for this, very few of these people have private insurance.”
The Senate voted down a gun control bill earlier this year, despite widespread public support.
The true economic cost of gun violence is much larger that what hospitals are spending on care. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that gun violence deaths cost the U.S. economy $37 billion and gun injuries $3.7 billion in 2005, the last year the public health agency conducted an analysis. In addition, taxpayers often end up footing the bill for social services for gun violence victims, as well as building the expensive hospital trauma units needed for their treatment.
Many of the victims of gun violence who are uninsured will see their hospital bills go down as President Obama’s health care reform law offers more low-income Americans access to Medicaid in many states. But because Medicaid is a government-subsidized program, Howell noted, the cost of gun violence to taxpayers will go up.