James’s Musings

thoughts, photography, and geeky stuff
from an unrelentingly curious Silicon Valley entrepreneur

A Costly Problem [Fifth in a Series on Gun Violence]

by James G. Beldock on May 13, 2008

We of­ten talk about gun vi­o­lence in terms of its emo­tion­al cost: the tragedy of a lost loved one, the ab­ject un­fair­ness of a ran­dom shoot­ing, the sense­less death of a stu­dent. Indeed, the emo­tion­al costs are re­al, but they are not the on­ly costs, as a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association makes clear. In the apt­ly named “Medical Costs of Gunshot Injuries in the United States,” four so­cial sci­en­tists con­tribut­ed the most com­pre­hen­sive (to my knowl­edge) analy­sis of the ac­tu­al med­ical costs of gun vi­o­lence in the United States. The study was pub­lished in 1999, so its ab­solute data on vi­o­lence rates will present high­er num­bers (crime rates have dropped na­tion­wide since their peak in 1994), but with the ever-in­creas­ing costs of health­care, the costs of care in in­di­vid­u­al cas­es have risen since this study was per­formed. (Applying a poly­no­mi­al in­ter­po­la­tion to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, per cap­i­ta health ex­pen­di­tures have dou­bled be­tween 1994—the study year—and 2007.)

According to this study, life­time med­ical costs alone of gun­shot in­juries range as high as $79,927 per in­ci­dent (New York State life­time med­ical cost for treat­ing self-in­flict­ed non-fa­tal in­juries). That’s in 1994 dol­lars. Adjusting for in­fla­tion, that num­ber would be $113,348. But ad­just­ing for the in­crease in med­ical care costs over the past 14 years, that num­ber would now be a shock­ing $160,448. Other costs are not quite so high, but nev­er­the­less dis­turbing: the av­er­age life­time med­ical cost in New York State for all types of gun in­jury (again in 1994 dol­lars) was $34,420 (that’s $47,448 in today’s dol­lars, or $69,096 at today’s med­ical costs).

Lifetime Medical Costs of Gun Violence

In the study year, there were some 134, 445 gun­fire-re­lat­ed in­juries in the US. (By my cal­cu­la­tion, that’s ap­prox­i­mate­ly five in­juries per 10,000 US res­i­dents.) The au­thors es­ti­mate that the­se in­juries cost some $2.3 bil­lion per year in 1994 (that would be $3.2 bil­lion in today’s dol­lars, or $4.6 bil­lion at today’s health­care costs). And that’s just the med­ical costs. Investigation, pros­e­cu­tion, in­car­cer­a­tion: all of the­se costs are sep­a­rate and no doubt sub­stan­tive.

But wait, you say. Crime rates are down since their peak in the mid-’90s. Surely we are spend­ing less now than we used to be, right? Although I want to go find more re­cent data, I con­tend, in the ab­sence of that data, that we are spend­ing as much or more an­nu­al­ly now than we were then. Why? Other data, in this case from the FBI, in­di­cates that al­though the homi­cide rate has stayed fair­ly sta­ble since 2000, the rate of homi­cide by gun or ex­plo­sive weapon has in­creased dra­mat­i­cal­ly:

US Homicide Trends 2001-2005

Oh, and one last thought. Think this is all some­body else’s prob­lem? I mean, af­ter all, it’s not like you are pay­ing for this med­ical care, right? Wrong. 49% of the­se costs are born by the gov­ern­ment (read: your tax dol­lars), and an­oth­er 18% are paid by pri­vate in­sur­ance (read: high­er in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums). Directly or in­di­rect­ly, you are foot­ing the bill for 67% of the med­ical costs of gun vi­o­lence. That’s $3.1 bil­lion of your mon­ey we spend per year.

Who Pays for Gun Violence?

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Aaron Wakling May 13, 2008 at 8:45 pm

Good Blog. I will continue reading it in the future. Nice layout too.

Aaron Wakling

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