The Health Costs of Gun Violence Trauma

Yout’s impossible to quantify the cost of gun violence. There’s no way to add up pain and grief. It is impossible to add pain and grief with shock or outrage. However, emotional and physical suffering can add up to a national burden on the health system. According to the Government Accountability Office, there are approximately 51,000 emergency rooms visits each year in order to treat firearm injury. These initial hospital visits cost nearly three times as much per patient and totaled $1 billion each year. The cost of hospitalizations for Medicaid patients and others was more than half.

For gun-wound survivors and their families, there’s a hefty price tag affixed to the healing process following a shooting incident, according to a Harvard Medical School study published in April that analyzed Medicare and commercial insurance claims between 2008 and 2018. Comparing with other survivors, gunshot survivors experienced an increase of 40% in pain diagnoses and 51% in psychiatric conditions. There was also an increase of 85% in substance-use disorders after the shooting. There was an increase of 12% in the number of psychiatric conditions among their relatives.

The study found that medical expenses for wounded survivors rose to $25,000 per month one year after the shooting. Over 12 months, the costs totaled about $30,000 per survivor—or approximately $2.5 billion when multiplied by the 85,000 people who survive firearm wounds every year in the U.S., the study found. The costs were linked to treating survivors’ physical injuries and also subsequent mental health conditions in the first year following the shooting.

Gunshot survivors included in the study all had insurance coverage, and so didn’t pay out of pocket for all those expenses. However, their average monthly co-pays rose by about $100 in the first year of the study. What’s more, that financial burden didn’t account for lost productivity, wages, or employment (which could impact their ability to pay for health care), nor did it account for longer-term rehabilitation costs in later years.

For survivors’ significant others, parents, and children, medical spending was nearly $80 higher per person in the first month after the injury, but not statistically different over a one-year period. However, the study didn’t account for the population of families that lost a loved one to gun violence, nor the financial hardships associated with caring for a gunshot victim.

Another analysis from Everytown Research, a gun safety advocacy organization, puts medical costs even higher than the Harvard study, at $3.5 billion a year, though that figure accounts for survivors’ long-term care, coroner services for fatally shot victims (of which there are some 40,000 a year), and mental-health services for family members.

Everytown’s analysis shows that gun violence has a far greater financial impact than the health and medical costs. However, these costs include quality of life and intangible costs. These can, however, be approximated using jury verdicts and settlements.

In the wake of high-profile mass shootings, like the most recent shootings at a Buffalo, N.Y. supermarket and a Uvalde, Texas elementary school, there’s often a flurry of fundraisers to support the affected families and communities. Sometimes gun violence results in compensation following lawsuits. Such financial buffers—that is, the ones that no one ever wishes for—don’t bring down the costs that the broader health care system has to shoulder. They don’t alleviate the collective and personal pain that the U.S. endures over and over again.

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