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For Immediate Release,
Kathy Lane
Communications Director
(630) 775-2307
Missouri Could Save $103 Million in Medicaid Costs With Stronger Seat Belt Law
Study Documents Savings
Jefferson City, MO – The State of Missouri could save $103 million in Medicaid cost savings over the next ten years by enacting a primary seat belt bill, according to a study commissioned by the National Safety Council. Charles A. Hurley, NSC Vice President – Transportation Safety Group, will include key findings from the study during testimony today before the Missouri Senate Transportation Committee. The testimony is part of a debate on a bill to upgrade the state’s current mandatory seat belt law from secondary enforcement to primary or “standard” enforcement.
The 2004 study, “Impact of a Primary Seat Belt Law on Missouri’s State Medicaid Expenses”, conducted by Preusser Research Group, In. of Trumbull, Ct., found that Missouri could expect to save at least $103 million dollars in medical costs over the next 10 years by implementing a primary safety belt law. Researchers based their estimates of state funded health care costs on an 11% increase in Missouri’s seat belt use, the average for states that pass primary seat belt use laws.
Primary seat belt laws enable law enforcement officers to ticket motorists based solely on an observed seat belt violation, just as they do any other motor vehicle law such as a broken tail light. Secondary laws require officers to stop a vehicle for another violation before ticketing vehicle occupants for failure to wear their seat belt. Primary laws are in place in 21 states and cover more than 60 percent of the U.S. population. Twenty-eight states, including Missouri, have weaker secondary seat belt use laws.
The study analyzed Missouri’s 2001 Hospital Discharge Data looking only at cases where the primary external cause of injury was a motor vehicle crash. Researchers looked at these costs for three population groups: those currently on Medicaid, those who sustained spinal cord injuries and those who sustained traumatic brain injuries.
The latter two categories are often associated with motor vehicle crashes and have high on-going costs often billed to the state’s Medicaid program.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, safety belts can reduce the risk of death for front seat occupants of passenger cars by 45% and decrease the risk of serious injury for front seat occupants of passenger cars by 50%. Researchers based their estimates of state funded health care costs on an 11% increase in Missouri’s seat belt use, the average for states that pass primary seat belt use laws.
According to Hurley, the experience of other states shows that passage of primary seat belt use laws has been instrumental in getting high-risk drivers, like teens and young adults, to buckle up. In 2002, 305 young people between 14 and 24 years of age were killed in cars and trucks in Missouri. Eighty-two percent (249) of these young people were not wearing seat belts. If these people young people had been belted, some 125 would be with their families today.
“Fatality rates for young drivers - including those well into their 20’s - are twice those of older drivers,” Hurley said. “There’s no question that more young drivers and passengers buckle up when there is a primary belt law. Increased seat belt use will save not only Missouri Medicaid dollars but more importantly, the lives of young Missourians.
On average, inpatient hospital care costs for an unbelted crash victim are 50% higher than those for a crash victim who was wearing a seat belt. Society picks up 85 percent of those costs.

The National Safety Council ( saves lives by preventing injuries and deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the roads, through leadership, research, education and advocacy.

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