My dermatologist told me that as of mid-January, Medicare would no longer pay for removing my freckle that had looked suspicious and that a biopsy had revealed was precancerous. It would pay, however, for stitching up the hole that was left.
On the advice of my daughter-in-law, a dermatology resident, I said, "Go ahead and take it out even if I have to pay for it."
At the same time these desperate efforts are enacted to try to save money in the short term, exposing seniors like me to more risk and greater medical costs, I happened to listen to an Oakland minister talking about Oakland's 130 deaths by gunfire last year. He went on to point out that more than 550 people were wounded. Those wounded and still living were what got my attention.
In 1954, I had a first cousin who was shot in the head at age 13 while he and his friends were playing with a revolver (with a round in the chamber) that they thought was empty. They had found the key to a gun closet and the rest became an all-too-common story in this country. While losing the use of one side of his body, he did go on to college and eventually became a lawyer, but not without a huge amount of rehabilitation effort and expense.
So while we struggle to control health care costs, we should be looking at the cost of the carnage caused by the guns that wound, but don't kill. It's against the law right now to collect official statistics along these lines, so we're left to our own devices to extrapolate from anecdotal evidence.
If that Oakland minister is correct, let's first assume that almost five people are wounded for every one killed. There are roughly 30,000 gunshot deaths a year in this country, so that's 150,000 wounded victims a year.
It's hard to imagine an average gunshot wound not costing at least $50,000 in medical bills. That was an official government figure published in 1999. Some victims, of course, incur expenses to society that are in the millions after months in ICUs and years in nursing homes.
So, let's say the average cost per person wounded by gunfire is $100,000 -- the inflation-adjusted 1999 figure. That pencils out to $15 billion a year for our fellow citizens wounded by gunfire. We all paid for it -- either in insurance premiums or taxes.
Australia offers a model solution to this economic problem without trampling on anyone's perceived rights. After a rash of mass killings including one that took 35 lives in 1996, it adopted a countrywide gun buyback program. In a recent letter to The New York Times, John Howard. former premier, explained that he initiated a one-time buyback program that generated the return and destruction of more than 700,000 guns. It was funded by a one-time tax.
We already have the tax money. It just needs to get redirected from Defense to something that would give us more protection right here at home. Weighed against the current cost of this carnage, a buyback would be a terrific investment.
Stephen J. Butler is CEO of Pension Dynamics. Contact him at 925-956-0506 or firstname.lastname@example.org.