No one can put a price on a human life or a family’s suffering, but policy experts can calculate the price society pays.
Public health experts say that the physical and psychiatric care a victim requires, the loss of income they suffer while out of work, the cost of a crime scene cleanup, and even the long-term impact a shooting can have on a neighborhood’s property values, while difficult to quantify precisely, all combine to have an impact potentially as broad as a virulent flu strain.
“It has always been the simple things that we don’t consider with these costs,’’ says Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who has focused on victim services and compensation during her 5-year tenure. “Take cleanup costs of crime scenes, where someone has been shot. Once that investigation ends and the police have left the scene and the emergency workers are gone, the residents are often left with a mess on their hands. Costs can run into the thousands - changing locks, replacing windows or doors, hazardous cleanup of blood and bodily fluids.’’
And those are just the smaller bills.
Alan Sager, public health and policy professor at Boston University, says that’s in addition to at least $200 a day for physical therapy that can last for weeks, months, or even years. If a shooting victim goes twice a week for a year, that’s $20,000. The same figures apply for mental health care, Sager said, assuming a victim is willing to undergo psychiatric therapy.
The average victim of a serious gun injury suffers physical and mental after effects for 20 years or more, according to Sager. That means the treatment for a single bullet wound can approach or exceed $1 million over the remainder of a victim’s life, depending on his or her age.
But there’s more, according to Sager’s Health Reform Program at BU: the cost to homeowners near a shooting scene, when their property loses value; the cost to schools that lose funding from their districts when fearful residents flee the neighborhood encompassing a shooting scene.
At a mean medical cost per injury of about $17,000, the 134,445 (95% confidence interval [CI], 109,465-159,425) gunshot injuries in the United States in 1994 produced $2.3 billion (95% CI, $2.1 billion–$2.5 billion) in lifetime medical costs (in 1994 dollars, using a 3% real discount rate), of which $1.1 billion (49%) was paid by US taxpayers. Gunshot injuries due to assaults accounted for 74% of total costs.
The AMA concluded that Gunshot injury costs represent a substantial burden to the medical care system with nearly half this cost is borne by US taxpayers.
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