The average cost of a gunshot victim’s emergency room or hospital stay in Kentucky was $10,000 in 2014. That’s according to a report out from the Urban Institute.
The total costs of these stays was $3.7 million, with the majority coming from inpatient stays.
And most of that care was provided by a government program. In 2014, the majority of gunshot victims in Kentucky hospitals — 68 percent — had their care paid for by public insurance like Medicaid. In 2010, 54 percent of gunshot victims had no insurance at all. Kentucky expanded its Medicaid program to childless adults in 2014 as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Not having insurance means victims and families are accountable for the cost, and anything that can’t be paid gets absorbed by the hospital as uncompensated care. Before the Affordable Care Act, federal and state governments reimbursed hospitals for these unpaid costs. But since the law, they’ve reduced the amount they pay because more people are covered by expanded Medicaid.
Community activist Christopher 2X said he’s not surprised by the numbers. He works with families in West Louisville who are concerned about their children and violence. He also works with trauma physicians and nurses at the University of Louisville to get word out that gun violence is a public health crisis.
“For individuals within the affluent communities that aren’t connected to the epicenter of the problem, these cost numbers resonate with them,” he said. “That’s something they pay attention to, because then they figure out the why. And then the doctors come in.”
Kentucky also saw a slight increase in the number of people in the hospital because of firearm injuries between 2010 and 2014: from 6.8 people per 100,000, to 8.5 people per 100,000.
The costs of gunshots go beyond these hospital stays.
“If you look at someone who’s been shot, treatment in the hospital is just the start,” said Mike McLively, staff attorney with the Law Center for Prevent Gun Violence. “You’re taking expensive medications to control pain, doing psychical therapy. It’s important we look at the hospital costs, and they’re high. But we also have to consider that there is a whole other world of costs.”
In Louisville in 2016, there were 504 gunshot victims, 102 of whom died. That number doubled from 2011. In Kentucky overall, 627 people died from gunshot wounds in 2014, ranking the state 15th in gun deaths, according to the Center.
State law does not require a background check prior to the sale or transfer of a firearm. It also does not require a gun license, except to carry it concealed under clothing.
2x said he’s talking about gun violence as a public health issue in part because it’s hard to get people to care about the issue in general.
“We have to frame this as a public health crisis,” 2x said. “When you see children 2- or 3-years old starting to talk about, ‘I’ll murk you,’ or you see 10-year-olds that are attracted to this magnetic pull of street life and everything it offers in the most negative way, you know something is wrong, and you can’t just hope this thing away.”