Study: Gun-related injuries cost $2.8 billion per year in hospital charges

Gun-related injuries are costing the American people billions of dollars per year in hospital charges, a new study has found.

For the study, published in the October issue of Health Affairs, researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine used data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample to identify 150,930 patients, which represented a weighted total of 704,916 patients nationwide, who were treated for firearms-related injuries in the emergency department between 2006 and 2014.

The researchers found that the average emergency room and inpatient charges were respectively $5,254 and $95,887, resulting in approximately $2.8 billion in such charges per year for the group studied. Approximately 37 percent of the patients who reported alive to the emergency room were admitted to inpatient care, and around 8 percent died during their hospital visit.

Over half of patients in the study sample were uninsured or self-paying, the researchers noted. This means patients either had to pay the full amount of actual hospital charges or that the charges went unrecovered and increased the overall amount of uncompensated care provided by health care professionals.

Men were nine times more likely to suffer firearms-related injuries than women and made up approximately 89 percent of the patients studied. Such injuries were most common among men ages 20-24, and over 49 percent of the patients were ages 18-29.

The percentage of patients with previously diagnosed mental disorders rose from 5.3 percent in 2006 to 7.5 percent in 2014, and the percentage of those who suffered unintentional injuries rose from 33.7 to 37.4 percent.

Most patients either suffered injuries from assault, at 49.5 percent, or unintentional injury, at 35.3 percent, and 5.3 percent of patients were injured due to attempted suicide.

Medicare enrollees, those over 65 years of age, were twice as likely to have suffered injuries due to attempted suicide, and patients who attempted suicide were more likely to be in the highest income bracket than others. Those with assault-related injuries were more likely to be in the lowest income bracket.

In conclusion to their study, the researchers recommended that lawmakers consider implementing universal background checks for gun purchases as a way of limiting firearms access for people with mental health issues or criminal records.

The researchers did admit there were limitations to their analysis, namely that the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample only included patients who had reported to the emergency department and did not include those who died before making it to the hospital or failed to report their injuries to a health care facility. This may have led them to underestimate the true financial burden caused by such injuries.

The Nationwide Emergency Department Sample also does not report the race of patients, the researchers noted, which they said can be a significant factor in determining risk for a gun-related injury.