Initial hospital costs for gun injuries tops $1B per year: GAO report

Jul 14, 2021
In The News

The cost of initial treatment for gun-related injuries in hospitals exceeds $1 billion per year, with public health coverage accounting for the majority of the bill, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

The GAO’s report released Wednesday found hospitals documented about 30,000 in-patient stays and about 50,000 emergency department visits for initial treatment for gun-related injuries per year, according to most recent hospital data from 2016 and 2017. 

But the data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality did not include the physician costs, which the office predicted could add about 20 percent to the $1 billion total. 

The GAO predicted patients with Medicaid coverage accounted for half of the cost of this initial hospital treatment, while patients with other public health care were estimated to make up 13 percent of the annual cost.

“While not receiving needed services may minimize costs initially, the consequences of unmet health needs for firearm injury survivors may ultimately result in greater costs,” the report reads. 

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) called gun violence “one of the greatest threats to the health and safety” of Americans in a briefing with reporters. 

In response to the report, she requested that Congress fund better gun violence research, labeling it as “appalling” that all data on long-term health costs of gun violence is more than two decades old. 

“Until we start collecting more current data, there will be no way for us to understand the full scope of this public health crisis,” she told reporters. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows almost 40,000 people died from gun violence in 2019, with this year and last year expected to have more fatalities in the final numbers. 

Maloney, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) initially requested the GAO look into the medical costs of gun violence victims in the country in February 2020.

GAO’s analysis conducted between April 2020 and last month includes gun-related injuries that occur from attempts at self-harm, accidents, interpersonal violence and incidents involving law enforcement. 

The report found that patients that identified as Black made up more than half of hospital stays and costs, showing that gun violence “disproportionately” impacts Black and brown communities in the U.S., Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said.

“We have to treat it as a public health crisis,” he told reporters. “That is the only way in which we can confront such a catastrophic situation unfolding on the streets of our country.”