The Financial Cost Of Getting Shot

Oct 8, 2017
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

For the more than 500 people who were injured in the shooting in Las Vegas, the recovery process is just beginning. And it comes potentially with a very high price tag. A new study in the journal Health Affairs finds that hospitals charge gunshot victims anywhere from $5,000 on average up to $100,000. Dr. Joseph Sakran coauthored that study. He's the director of Emergency General Surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. And he joins us from Baltimore. Welcome to the program.

JOSEPH SAKRAN: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your study mentions $5,000 to $100,000. I'm assuming because of the different types of injuries, that's why the costs vary so widely.

SAKRAN: Yeah. So part of it is the type of injuries. Initially, the 5,000 number that you're talking about is people that were seen in the emergency department and then ended up being discharged, versus those being seen and admitted and had, you know, some sort of hospital stay. So maybe it was two days. And maybe it was a month.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Five thousand dollars to $100,000 is a lot of money. How do people pay for it? How do people get to the other side of paying for those very high costs?

SAKRAN: A lot of our patients are uninsured. Or they're self-pay patients. And those individuals lack often negotiating power. And so they either bear the entire financial burden of their injuries, or these costs remain uncovered. And, you know, that then adds to the uncompensated care provided by hospitals, physicians and health care systems.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You said in your study that research on this topic is limited by funding. Can you explain why that is?

SAKRAN: So in 1996, there was something called the Dickey Amendment. And that resulted in federal funding being taken away for gun violence research. Even after Newtown and after President Obama had issued the executive order for the CDC to be able to study the cause of gun violence, there's still been a lot of hesitation to do that. You know, gun violence is responsible for about as many deaths as sepsis is. But funding for gun violence research is equivalent to 0.7 percent of the funding that's allocated for sepsis. When you think about this in the big picture, we have such a public health crisis that we're dealing with yet not enough research and evidence that's being put into the system to figure out how we can develop solutions that are going to really make a difference.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've actually experienced this from the other end. You were shot when you were 17. Tell me what happened.

SAKRAN: After a high school football game one evening, I was nearly killed after being shot in the throat with a 38-caliber bullet. A lot of 17-year-olds don't appreciate the fact that they're mortal, don't realize, you know, kind of the importance of their family and other aspects like that. And when that injury happened to me, it really changed my life. It inspired me to want to be able to give other people the same second chance that I was given.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dr. Joseph Sakran is the director of Emergency General Surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Thank you so much.

SAKRAN: Thank you so much for your time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.