Rape victims won’t get bills from hospitals for exams and tests under a plan unveiled Monday by the state health agency.
But the plan requires a change in state law and in some agency regulations, both of which will take months to accomplish, so victims still could receive the bills in the meantime.
Legislators pressed for quicker action Monday to temporarily halt what they called the unconscionable direct billing of sexual assault victims. State Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert said the state health agency is working with the Louisiana Hospital Association to come up with an interim solution.
The state Senate Select Committee on Women and Children met Monday to discuss sexual assaults on college campuses as well as hospitals sending bills to rape victims for exams and tests. Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order late Monday directing the Crime Victims Reparations Board and higher education institutions to immediately revise administrative rules and policies, to and establish more uniform protections for sexual assault victims.
Victims’ advocates as well as law enforcement members and hospital and health agency executives said the treatment of rape victims is inconsistent from one area of the state to another. Inconsistencies include some hospitals billing the victims while others do not, and when bills are sent, just what services are charged also vary. Different health care providers deliver different levels and types of care. They pushed for developing a uniform state policy.
“It’s been like peeling back an onion. We find a million other problems,” state Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, said as the committee testimony continued.
State Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans, said some practices, such as requiring victims to undergo lie detector tests, violate the federal Violence Against Women Act and could subject police officials who do that to loss of federal law enforcement dollars. She urged an investigation by the attorney general and inspector general.
“This is something that requires a major systemic and cultural change,” said Ebony Tucker, executive director of the Louisiana Federation Against Sexual Assault. “The culture in each parish determines how victims are being treated and what’s happening.”
She said that in some jurisdictions, victims who do not want to report the crime do not have access to rape kits or get exams paid for.
The six-hour hearing Monday began with a rape victim’s mother testifying by telephone. She described her daughter’s experience going through the trauma of the attack, being treated in a Baton Rouge hospital, then receiving a $4,257.70 bill. There was an add-on charge because of a nighttime visit to the emergency room, she said.
“It’s as if the victims have no rights through our hospitals,” said the woman, who testified while only being identified as Vicki. She said her daughter was even charged for the forensic exam. “If homes are broken into, there is no charge for evidence collection,” Vicki said, adding, “prisoners get free medical care at hospitals.”
Another rape victim testified that she got a $2,000 bill from the LSU Interim Hospital in New Orleans. “My insurance company paid none of it at all,” she told the panel.
Moreno replied: “We need to ask the question why insurance companies are denying some of these claims as well.”
Under the health agency plan, bills for reimbursement will go to the Crime Victims Reparation Board.
Currently, the board may not accept bills for medical expenses directly from the provider. In addition, the board cannot reimburse unless a victim files a police report, which often does not happen.
Both will require changes in the law, which Moreno said she would file for the next legislative session beginning in April.
In the meantime, the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Criminal Justice will start promulgating changes now to some of the rules governing its payments to victims.
Bob Wertz, who oversees the crime reparation’s board, said he would present changes to the Crime Victims board. Under one, sexual assault victims won’t have to apply to their insurance companies for reimbursement first before getting aid from the reparations fund. Under another, claims could not be denied based on the behavior of the victim, he said.
Louisiana’s laws and regulations are inconsistently applied around the state, not only on whether hospitals can bill but on what services they bill. Some hospitals are 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.
Those who work with sexual assault victims worry that the hospital bills will deter victims from reporting crimes.
Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the State Capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.