The Fuzzy Math Behind The GAO's New Report On The Cost Of "Gun Violence"

AP Photo/Teresa Crawford

Democrats have a new talking point in their continued push for new federal gun control laws – restricting the rights of Americans doesn’t just save lives, but money too. A new report from the Government Accountability Office claims that that the United States spends $1-billion per year on hospital costs related to “gun violence,” and anti-gun politicians are already pointing to the new report as a reason to pass more anti-gun legislation.

 

The nonpartisan GAO found gun violence accounts for about 30,000 hospital stays and about 50,000 emergency room visits annually. More than 15 percent of firearm injury survivors are also readmitted at least once after initial treatment, costing an additional $8,000 to $11,000 per patient. Because the majority of victims are poor, the burden largely falls on safety-net programs like Medicaid, including covering some of the care for the uninsured.

The report, the first of its kind from the watchdog agency, is based available data on caring for people who suffer non-fatal gun injuries each year. It’s expected to fuel Democrats’ calls for expanded background checks amid a stalemate on gun control legislation.

“Congress must do whatever it takes — including abolishing the filibuster if necessary—to address this public health crisis,” said New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, who led the coalition requesting the GAO study.

 

Do you get the feeling that Maloney was going to use this report to call for an end to the filibuster no matter what it said? This report is a means to an end, and the end result that Maloney and her fellow Democrats are aiming for is the end of the filibuster and the establishment of one-party rule; from enacting sweeping gun bans with 51 votes to packing the Supreme Court full of anti-gun justices that will uphold every new infringement on the Second Amendment approved by Congress.

Let’s put these numbers into some perspective. Yes, 30,000 hospitalizations for firearm-related injuries is 30,000 too many, but that figure (and billion-dollar cost associated with those hospitalizations) pale in comparison to the amount of money we spend on hospitalizations for illegal drug overdoses.

A recent Premier Inc. (NASDAQ: PINC) analysis found that total care for patients who experienced an opioid overdose resulted in $1.94 billion in annual hospital costs across 647 healthcare facilities nationwide.

Premier®, a healthcare improvement company, found that these costs were concentrated among nearly 100,000 opioid overdose patients with nearly 430,000 total visits across emergency department (ED), inpatient and other care settings. Sixty-six percent of the patients were insured by public programs (33 percent Medicare and 33 percent Medicaid), 16 percent used a commercial payer, 14 percent were uninsured and 3 percent were covered under other programs, such as workers’ compensation.

Annual hospital care for overdose patients represents a significant portion of healthcare expenditures and can be detrimental to providers in regions with high addiction rates. For instance, by extrapolating the cost trends Premier identified in its analysis, the total added costs to the U.S. healthcare system are estimated to amount to $11.3 billion annually, or 1 percent of all hospital expenditures. If the payer mix remained constant, $7.4 billion of the expense would be borne by the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs.

So, gun-related injuries cost the U.S. $1-billion each year (or as much as $2.8-billion, according to other studies). Drug-overdose related costs are somewhere between 5-10 times higher, and again, these are costs associated with overdosing on substances that are illegal. Those figures are also likely far less than what we spent last year, when there were an estimated 93,000 drug overdose deaths (compared to about 20,000 homicides, including those in which firearms were not involved).

What about the costs associated with another legal product? Say… cheeseburgers? Well, cheeseburgers and other junk foods that can lead to obesity if eaten in large amounts. According to the George Washington School of Public Health, the obesity-related cost to taxpayers runs into the hundreds of billions.

Estimates of the medical cost of adult obesity in the United States (U.S.) range from $147 billion to nearly $210 billion per year.

The majority of the spending is generated from treating obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, among others.

Obesity is responsible for $61.8 billion in Medicare and Medicaid spending.

What about smoking? According to the CDC, we spend more money on tobacco-related illnesses than we do on obesity.

Smoking-related illness in the United States costs more than $300 billion each year, including:

More than $225 billion for direct medical care for adults

I’m not trying to make light of the cost (in terms of both dollars and human life) of gun-related injuries, but I do think it’s important to put the figures from the GAO report into perspective. There are 100-million gun owners in the United States, and 30,000 firearms-related hospitalizations each year. That’s a rate of 0.0003%. More than four times as many Americans are hospitalized with food poisoning than gunshot wounds (with food-borne illness costing the U.S. an estimated $152-billion each year).

While anti-gun Democrats like Carolyn Maloney will use this GAO report to push for more gun control laws, what the study tells me is that a) we’ve got much bigger issues that are driving up healthcare costs and b) banning or tightly regulating items doesn’t solve the problem. Even if the right to keep and bear arms wasn’t protected by the Constitution, gun control wouldn’t be the best answer to bring down the rate of violent crime and firearm-related injuries, but the Second Amendment makes the idea a non-starter. Want to reduce gun-related injuries? Reduce the number of violent criminals, and leave the 100-million responsible gun owners alone.