Treatment for Gun Injuries Cost More Than $1 Billion a Year, Watchdog Says

Medicaid and other public programs cover more than 60 percent of those emergency bills, but the costs of long term health care are still unknown.,

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Treatment for gun injuries costs more than $1 billion a year, federal watchdog says.

  • July 14, 2021, 8:03 p.m. ET

In a groundbreaking report released on Wednesday, a federal watchdog estimated that the cost of medical treatment for survivors of gun injuries in the United States amounts to at least $1 billion each year, but is likely much higher.

The new assessment from the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s nonpartisan investigative arm, used recent hospital data to determine that injuries sustained from firearms led to about 50,000 emergency department visits and 30,000 instances of inpatient treatment annually.

Public coverage programs like Medicaid accounted for more than 60 percent of the costs of care. While the report did not break down all patient data by race and ethnicity, it found that Black patients accounted for more than half of all inpatient stays and costs.

Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, the head of the House Oversight Committee, and Senator Elizabeth Warren last year requested that the G.A.O. compile research on both the immediate and long-term costs of gun injuries. The incidents covered by the report vary widely, from injuries that occurred while cleaning a weapon to instances of self-harm and suicide or interpersonal gun violence, including injuries inflicted by law enforcement.

“Today’s report provides shocking new evidence of how gun violence strains our health care system and disproportionately harms historically marginalized communities in the United States,” Ms. Maloney said in a statement. “Congress must do whatever it takes — including abolishing the filibuster if necessary — to address this public health crisis and keep our constituents safe from gun violence.”

The G.A.O. failed to find reliable data that would shed light on the long-term costs of gun injuries — the only available data on the cost of long-term physical and mental health care was decades old.

“There is no complete information on the health care costs of firearm injuries,” the 53-page report reads. “National data allow for estimates of the costs of initial hospital treatment and some first-year costs, but less is known about costs the more time passes from the injury.”

The report is unique as it is one of the first federal reports on gun violence since 1996, when the so-called Dickey Amendment effectively shuttered all federal attempts to fund or conduct research on guns and gun violence.

It was only in 2019, after a nearly 25-year hiatus, that Congress began to fund federal health agencies to conduct research on firearm injury prevention. The push was led by Democrats, while Republicans in Congress have largely pushed back against such funding.

The G.A.O. report comes ahead of a vote expected in the House Appropriations Committee on a bill that proposes a $12.5 million increase in funding toward research to help prevent gun injuries and death.

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