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It costs as much to treat a child for gunshot wounds as it would to send him or her to a private college for a year, a study released last month by the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions reports.

The survey, which looked at 1991 discharge records from 44 acute-care hospitals, found that children's injuries from gunfire cost an average of $14,434 per case that year. That was a few dollars more than the average per-year cost of tuition and room and board at a private college in the United States in 1991.

Roughly half of the medical costs were paid by Medicaid, a government-financed insurance program for those unable to pay their own medical expenses, or were absorbed by the hospital.

"Beyond the human tragedy involved, that's a lot of cancer and pediatric AIDS research going down the drain,'' Lawrence A. McAndrews, the president and chief executive officer of NACHRI, said in a statement, referring to the amount of money that is spent to treat young gunshot victims.

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