The arrival of a medical bill in the mail is probably never welcome, but it is particularly unwelcome when a person is billed for exams and tests related to a sexual assault.
At different hospitals and clinics, different policies have been in place about this difficult situation, particularly for young women. The costs of examinations and tests often ordered in these situations can run to more than a thousand dollars; sometimes, and it’s not an issue limited to assault victims, the patient isn’t always aware of what is going to be charged until the bill arrives. After an assault, a bill is a particular indignity.
At the same time, the reality is that medical services cost money. And there are particular circumstances that make the reporting and recordkeeping about sexual assault more problematic than the ordinary emergency room visit. Some victims don’t want to file a police report, for example. Hospital procedures vary across the state, but the costs of treatment are a real issue for health care providers.
The Jindal administration is pulling together a package of actions that will alleviate some of the concerns about the situation, although it appears that some changes in law will be needed in next year’s Legislature.
The proposals from the Department of Health and Hospitals will allow the existing Crime Victims Reparations Board to help victims who do not file a police report or aren’t ready to do so at the time of treatment; even insured patients sometimes do not want to file an insurance claim in such circumstances.
The department also said it would seek legislation to allow hospitals to bill the board directly in these cases. That is currently not allowed in state law.
Two state lawmakers involved in this issue, Sen. J.P. Morrell and Rep. Helena Moreno, both D-New Orleans, said they would push the issue in the 2015 Legislature.
We commend the department for pulling together a quick response to this public concern, but the issue of costs does not go away. The board and lawmakers will have the opportunity to outline a consistent policy, but the quick actions of DHH and its partners, public and private, are likely to be of immediate value.
Above all, no one in public or private institutions wants to see fear of a bill as a barrier to prompt reporting and treatment of sexual assault cases. That is why DHH’s initiative is welcome, even if some changes in law will await the next legislative session.