More Guns, Less Health Care: How The Right Wing Is Making America Less Unsafe

Condemning President Obama's surgeon general nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy, for discussing the obvious public safety concern of gun violence in America, Fox News and the right-wing media have led a charge to discredit the respected doctor. Teaming up with the National Rifle Association, the far-right press has rushed to paint Murthy as an “anti-gun” radical who's outside mainstream of U.S. medicine. (He's not.)

The crusade to quash Murthy's position, which appears to be working as his nomination stalls politically, represents just the latest conservative effort to wage blind partisan warfare over guns. But the anti-Murthy effort also overlaps the right-wing's equally passionate and deceitful efforts to demonize Obamacare and the president's push to expand quality, affordable health care. 

From the early, alarmist claim that government-run "death panels" would be sentencing American seniors to their graves, to the recent made-up claim that new parents aren't allowed to add newborn children to their health insurance plans, Fox News has hysterically misinformed about Obamacare. It's been a programming cornerstone of the channel for four years running.

Now with the battle over Murthy, a 36-year-old Harvard Medical School physician and instructor, the right-wing is trying to make sure the country is flooded with unregulated guns, and that it's more difficult to get access to quality health care. Those two crusades are colliding inside emergency rooms all across the country, which continue to be inundated with gunshot wounds. They're wounds that are increasingly expensive to treat as the number of gunshot wounds requiring hospitalization has skyrocketed over the past decade, and wounds that U.S. taxpayers are forced to cover because so many victims lack health insurance coverage.

The intersection of guns and health care is undeniable. As the Firearm & Injury Center at the University of Pennsylvania concluded, “Healthcare providers thus have a vital role in preventing firearm injuries and their impact on patients, families and communities.” And that's why the group Doctors for America, which Murthy co-founded, applauded Obama's gun violence imitative last year.

As Atlantic noted at the time, “Under the insurance expansions that begin next month, millions more people--including many uninsured young males, who are often victims of gun violence-- will receive Medicaid coverage.”

Murthy's position on guns and medicine reflects common sense, which means it's anathema to the conservative press. (It's like opposing a surgeon general nominee for showing concern about teen smoking.)

For instance, medical experts agree that gun violence prevention would help drive down the number of gun injuries and the ballooning emergency room and hospital health care costs associated with them. (Accidental shootings represent more than 20 percent of all firearm injury treatments at hospitals in the United States.) But the NRA adamantly opposes common sense gun safety discussions  between doctors and patients, and is part of a larger right-wing crusade to oppose the expansion of health care coverage, which helps focus on gun violence prevention. So it becomes a closed loop, featuring rising gunshot injuries and rising health care costs.  

It's like buying up coastal property, crusading against flood insurance and then demanding the federal government pay for the water damage when the tides rise. It makes no sense and it's forcing taxpayers to shoulder extraordinary costs.

Note that despite the fact that the violent crime rate in America has been falling for decades, the amount of gunshot injuries has increased:

The estimated number of people wounded seriously enough by gunshots to require a hospital stay, rather than treatment and release, rose 47% to 30,759 in 2011 from 20,844 in 2001, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System-All Injury Program.

By comparison, the CDC estimates the number of people injured in serious stabbings rose just seven percent over the same ten-year period.

A study last year by the non-partisan Urban Institute calculated that emergency room and inpatient procedures associated with firearm injuries cost $629 million in 2010.  

A separate, more expansive study last year by American Public Health Association (APHA) concluded that it costs over $2 billion a year in hospital charges to treat gunshot victims. (The study did not include emergency room costs associated with firearm injuries.) According to the APHA, one out of every three patients hospitalized for gun injuries is uninsured, which means that “80 percent of gun violence costs are paid for by taxpayers through Medicaid or other public-funded programs that subsidize hospital care.”

“These are not just problems for an individual but also an incredible burden on our healthcare system,” stressed Dr. Eric Fleegler, an emergency pediatric physician at Boston Children's Hospital and expert on firearm injuries.

At UC Davis Medical Center in northern California, a patient with a gunshot wound who undergoes surgery followed by two days in an intensive care unit incurs about $100,000 in medical bills. At  Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood Ill., one doctor estimates that, on average, the complete cost to treat a gunshot victim is $540,447. (And most of those expenses are covered by taxpayers.)

Again and again, the plague of gun violence circles back to the issue of health care coverage:

[W]ith the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, many low-income uninsured victims of firearm assaults (including many young males) will become eligible for Medicaid and other forms of insurance, and as the country focuses on lowering healthcare costs through prevention methods, decreasing firearm assaults and injuries should receive attention as a public health priority.

Murthy agrees the crossroad of guns and health care ought to be an American priority. And for that, the right-wing media accuse him of being unfit to serve.