Gun injuries amount to $622M in US hospitalization costs annually

Hospitalizations associated with gun injuries cost the U.S. healthcare system $622 million annually on average, according to a recent study published in Injury Epidemiology.

For the study, researchers from the University of Iowa College of Public Health in Iowa City — led by Corinne Peek-Asa, PhD, professor of environmental and occupational health at the college — examined data related to hospital admissions for firearm injuries. The study authors derived data from the National Inpatient Sample concerning 336,785 firearm injury-related hospital admissions from 2003 to 2013. Researchers calculated annual per patient and hospital cost for the admissions, controlling for patient and hospital variables.

Study authors found the cost of an average hospital stay was $10,400 in the study period, while the cost of an average hospital stay for a firearm injury ranged from $16,975 to $33,462. While assault weapons were linked to the highest per-hospital costs, handguns represented more than 70 percent of firearm injuries and led to almost $183 million in annual hospitalization costs.

"This is an underestimate of the overall direct hospitalization costs because readmissions for further treatment may not have been identified with an Ecode noting the original cause of the injury," the authors wrote. "While [$622 million] represents less than 1 percent of the overall costs of $377 billion for all hospital stays in the U.S., firearm injuries represent relatively high costs per patient."

Of the more than $622 million spent on hospitalizations costs related to firearm injuries annually, the study found roughly 58 percent was paid by Medicaid or may have gone uncompensated.

"These findings demonstrate the high healthcare cost burden of firearm injuries. Firearm disproportionately impacts a young, minority and uninsured population. Hospitals can expect that the largest proportion of treatment for firearm injury admissions will be reimbursed by public sources, and, depending on trends in health insurance coverage, that a fifth of patients will have no insurance," the researchers concluded. "Efforts to prevent firearm injuries, particularly among assaults and injuries caused by handguns, could reduce this cost burden." 

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