A Louisiana House panel, without objection Thursday, approved legislation to stop rape victims from receiving hefty medical bills for their treatments after being attacked.
Hospitals would send the bills directly to the Crime Victims Reparations Board for payment. The victims could later seek help from the board in covering expenses, such as counseling and lost work days.
The legislation is part of a two-bill package to help victims who are already traumatized by the event. The other measure — to be considered Monday — would provide the money to cover payments made to help the victims.
“If we get these two laws passed, Louisiana will go from being one of the worst states in helping victims of sexual assault to one being toward the top in helping victims,” Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, said.
The House Judiciary Committee, without objection, approved the victims’ compensation measure by Moreno, House Bill 194.
The measure also spells out standards and procedures for the forensic examination and treatment of victims.
Louisiana’s laws and regulations in regard to rape victims have been inconsistently applied around the state, not only on whether hospitals can bill but on what services they bill. Some hospitals had been charging rape victims for expenses such as emergency room care, pregnancy testing, HIV testing and medications as well as treatment of injuries. The “rape kit” forensic examinations used to collect evidence for law enforcement don’t cost the victim.
Moreno said the problem was identified 10 years ago and is finally being addressed as the result of a collaborative effort involving the Jindal administration, the state health agency, the Louisiana Hospital Association, coroners, victims advocacy groups and others.
About 1,600 women a year get forensic medical exams, Moreno said.
The legislation allows hospitals to directly bill the Crime Victims Reparations Board for up to $1,000 for expenses. “Hopefully it will make it much easier that the victims are not billed,” she said .
It also establishes procedures for a victim to apply for up to $10,000 in additional funds for related expenses.
Also spelled out is what is included in a forensic medical exam from which evidence is needed for arrests and prosecutions.
HB194 also would require each of the nine regional health service districts to develop an annual sexual assault response plan to be submitted to and overseen by the state health agency.
“It’s incredibly important we protect these most vulnerable victims,” said Stafford Palmieri, Jindal’s deputy chief of staff.
Moreno said separate legislation will be heard in House Ways and Means Committee on Monday to provide the Crime Victims Reparations Board with required funding. Under House Bill 143, unclaimed prize tickets from pari-mutual wagering and electronic gaming jackpots would be used exclusively for health care services of victims of sexually-oriented crimes.
The unclaimed gambling money is estimated at between $1.5 million and $2 million annually, Moreno said.
The legislation had the backing of the Louisiana Hospital Association, the Louisiana Coroners Association, the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault and the Baton Rouge chapter of NOW.
“This will make a better system for victims and improve access to services,” said Jennifer McMahon, a Louisiana Hospital Association vice president.
Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.