DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Now, this debate comes as many voters seem to be thinking more about terrorism. Pollsters saw a big shift after the attack in San Bernardino. It is hard to measure the cost of a tragic event like that. But we're about to meet a man who tries. Health economist Ted Miller analyzes the financial toll of violence. He crunches numbers on a variety of social ills, including mass shootings such as the 2011 incident involving former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords. In that event, 6 people died. Thirteen were wounded.
TED MILLER: The worst wounded was Gabby Giffords herself. Her medical costs alone were well over half a million dollars. She was in the hospital for 140 days.
GREENE: Wow. What about that incident over all - I mean, do you look at what an entire incident, when you have people injured, people killed, you know, costs society?
MILLER: I haven't calculated that one totally. But we would figure that each death was worth about $7 million. And the way we'd look at that is we've - have interviews where people have been asked how much they would pay to reduce their chance of being killed or injured in a violent incident. People actually pay that when you look at housing prices. We pay more for housing in safe neighborhoods.
GREENE: You're looking at actually the cost of a human life. Tell me more about exactly what you're looking at.
MILLER: We're looking at the value of a human life, not the cost of a human life.
MILLER: We look at the wage loss. We look at the household work loss. We look at the value people place on their pain, suffering, loss, quality of life. Fatality is a lot cheaper, medically, than surviving. It makes a real difference if you have insurance.
GREENE: If you have insurance or not, if you're involved in an incident...
MILLER: That's right. The Boston Marathon is interesting because people who were uninsured who were injured in that bombing, who were from Massachusetts, could even after the fact buy health insurance, whereas people who were not from Massachusetts couldn't.
GREENE: You said something that makes me really uncomfortable, that you're actually better off dying, in financial terms, than...
MILLER: In medical cost terms.
GREENE: Medical costs.
MILLER: The pain, suffering, loss, quality of life and lost wages is far larger if you die than if you live. Although, some people will live as quadriplegics. Some people will live with severe traumatic brain injury. There are people who, when you ask them, say that's a fate worse than death.
GREENE: Is it tough sometimes to spend so many hours looking at this subject matter?
MILLER: I think of my numbers as giving people the numbers they need to save lives. I mean, take the example of the cost of a bicycle helmet. I've looked at the savings from bicycle helmets. That's resulted in laws being passed some places. For a lot of legislatures, it can - it builds a legislative case. When we say a child seat returns more in medical cost savings alone than the cost of the seat, that makes it easier to pass a law requiring kids to be in child seats, going back to when we didn't have those laws.
GREENE: So let's take an event that's still in the minds of a lot of people. And that's San Bernardino. Can we come to a number at San Bernardino if we sort of had a ballpark?
MILLER: Probably about $125 million for San Bernardino. Perhaps more telling is the total cost of firearm injury is 235 billion a year. So 125 million is less than a day's firearm injuries on average - well less.
GREENE: It's interesting because it's - I expected you to be saying, look at this tragedy in San Bernardino. The financial cost is astounding. But that's not exactly what you're saying here at all.
MILLER: Yeah, no, what I'm saying is that that's a small piece of even a day's firearm injuries costs.
GREENE: Well, Ted Miller, let me just ask you this last question about San Bernardino. Is there any way to put a number on the cost of fear that people are now feeling after something like that takes place?
MILLER: There are costs that we've not been able to look at. One of them is the cost of just things like more security systems in homes and the effect, in general, of fear in the population.
GREENE: How you might change your behavior or what you do because you're scared.
GREENE: Ted Miller, this is really interesting to learn about. Thank you so much.
MILLER: You're welcome.
GREENE: Ted Miller is a health economist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.
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