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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

December 22nd, 2012 2:00 PM

Maybe Aetna Could Help Solve Gun Violence Crisis

With the slaughter of innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last week, gun violence in America has reached the point where there is a public outcry for action.  Americans don’t want little kids shot at school.  From that one single point of agreement, perhaps we’ll finally make some progress toward ending some of the horrific scenes played out all over the country as well-armed shooters crank up their own private militias to kill whenever, wherever and whomever they so choose. 

Then I was standing in line at the pharmacy yesterday listening as two of three customers heard that their medications had been denied by their private, for-profit insurance companies, and it struck me.  I was only getting my medications with Aetna’s blessing and payment after fighting against them for months to get approvals – even though my doctors prescribed them to help me.  So, I blurted it out to the other customers and the pharmacist, “I’ll bet we’d have fewer assault weapons and gun deaths if Aetna was in charge of gun control.” 

We all laughed a bit, but then one man pointed at me and said, “That’s not a bad idea.”  What if we required gun owners insurance just the way we require car insurance?  Surely if we see cars as potentially lethal weapons that have caused bodily harm and economic damage, surely we can say that guns are at least as lethal, can’t we?

Let’s say we required licensure and insurance for anyone to own a gun before he or she could lawfully possess that weapon?  The actuaries could go to town working up all the numbers for us.  Clearly some guns are more costly in terms of human lives damaged and lost.  Some guns are more likely to be used in mass murders.  Some guns are more likely to be hunting weapons.  Some cars and some models are more expensive to insure based on actuarial evidence.  How about higher gun insurance rates for young, white males with parents who are gun owners?  Since that’s the group most often committing the mass murders of late, perhaps we ought to at least acknowledge the risk in insurance risk terms our society embraces for other property ownership purposes.  Gun owners who have hunting licenses and guns clearly used most often for hunting would pay premiums that reflected that.  Those who chose to own weapons with such grave killing capacity who exhibited other risk factors would pay much more or if the gun insurance company thought it too risky, perhaps that person would be denied coverage.

The correlations are endless here, but my point is only partly facetious.  Gun violence costs this nation and our communities dearly in terms of economic losses too.  What if the gun insurance companies had to pay the damages when a gun owner shoots and injures or kills anyone for any other reason than self-defense?  That would certainly make the gun insurance companies go to work to charge enough to high risk gun owners to protect their profits, eh?  Just like Aetna will have to charge so much more soon in premiums, they say, because they’ll have to actually cover more healthcare under Obamacare, the gun ownership insurance companies could charge an awful lot to high risk groups to cover potential claims.

Perhaps it might even lower overall health costs for the rest of us if the new gun ownership insurance was required to pay out all health and death benefits that resulted from a shooting.   And when a shooting occurred, part of the claim to be paid could also include reimbursement to communities for extra law enforcement responses and emergency personnel to tend to and transport the injured and the dead.  There might even be payment into a public fund from gun ownership insurance to make sure there was always enough money on hand to support the costs associated with mass murders.   After all, having a community that isn’t accustomed to a huge influx of media and elected officials and the like in the wake of a particularly newsworthy mass murder isn’t without additional costs for law enforcement and public services.  Gun violence is expensive.  An estimated $32 billion every year goes to pay for medical costs of those who survive as well as lost productivity. 

What of the NRA’s suggestion that an armed guard be place in and at every school in America?  Who pays for that?  The public?  Just to subsidize the NRA’s agenda that guns be allowed everywhere, all the time, without restriction?  No, how about the gun ownership insurance premiums charged to gun owners having the cost of all security protection built in for public buildings as deemed appropriate in those communities? 

There is much to consider in the gun violence debate.  As the mother of a man who survived a mass murder, I don’t have any problem wanting greater gun control.  But I certainly see the political heels digging in to prevent real progress on reducing the trends toward more violence.  More people raced to buy guns this past week than the retailers could have imagined this Christmas season.  Too bad we didn’t make sure that every gun was licensed and owners had to carry insurance.  At least then as the politicos argued and the NRA pulled their strings, we’d have some revenue stream to repair some of the predictable damages pending from the next shooting.  And there will be a next shooting.

While some may argue their right to bear arms under the Constitution, I would argue my right to feel safer and not bear the costs of someone else’s irresponsible gun ownership.  Capitalists ought to love my plan.  A whole new insurance industry could open up.  Health providers should love the plan.  No more uncompensated care for gun victims in the emergency rooms of America. 

Nothing says “Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Men” like a few million new unregulated guns in the hands of the American public.  Merry Christmas.

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