Gun injuries account for more than $622 million nationally in hospitalization costs each year, with more than 57 percent paid by Medicaid or not at all, according to a new study by the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
“One reason I looked at the data was to see, what is the burden? Is there a societal burden?” said Corinne Peek-Asa, lead author of the study and professor of environmental and occupational health.
She will present the findings at a summit at Boston University later this year.
“The piece (of data) that was missing was the direct dollars for hospitalizations,” she said. “Everyone is certainly interested right now in thinking about health care dollars and how they’re being used specifically.”
The study, published in the current issue of the journal Injury Epidemiology, looked at the National Inpatient Sample — a database that estimates outcomes related to hospital admissions — to analyze hospitalizations caused by firearm injuries between 2003 and 2013. Researchers looked only at costs associated with the immediate hospitalization after a gun injury and did not consider associated costs after discharge.
The study notes that the $622 million represents less than 1 percent of the overall $377 billion costs for hospital stays annually.
But gun injuries are more expensive to treat than other reasons for hospital admissions. The cost of an average hospital stay during the study period was $10,400, compared with $17,000 to $33,400, on average, for stays caused by a firearm injury.
In that time period, there were more than 336,000 hospital admissions that were a result of firearm injuries, with handguns accounting for more than 70 percent of the costs for admissions for which the type of firearm was known.
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What’s more, handguns were the highest total admission cost per known firearm type when looking at cumulative costs, the study found, even though handgun injuries were the least costly per admission. However, Peek-Asa said the type of firearm — handgun, assault weapon and shotgun — that caused the injury was not always well documented.
“If you were injured on the roadway, that data would be well coded,” she said. “But the type of firearm isn’t always in the documentation, so physicians are not always asking the question or they’re not writing it down in way that carries through the record.”
Other findings in the study:
• More than 80 percent of firearm injury hospitalizations were among individuals aged 15 to 44, with the highest annual rate of 28.9 per 100,000 among those age 15 to 24.
• The injury rate for blacks was 39.7 per 100,000 compared with 4.4 per 100,000 for whites.
Peek-Asa said she would next like to look at Iowa-specific data through the Iowa Trauma Registry to get a better idea of the differences between rural and urban areas.
“Efforts to prevent these injuries, particularly assaults and injuries caused by handguns, could reduce this cost burden,” she said.