Louisiana’s health department said Monday it will seek a ban on billing sexual assault victims for exams and tests, in response to outrage from victims’ advocacy groups and lawmakers that the women were being charged for treatment.
The law changes recommended by the Department of Health and Hospitals will be proposed in the legislative session that begins in April. The plan centers on the Crime Victim’s Reparation Board, which gets money from a fine levied in criminal court cases.
Currently, the board can’t accept bills directly from the medical provider for treatment of rape and sexual assault victims, and those who don’t file a police report have been deemed ineligible for reimbursement. DHH said the policies force hospitals to treat the victims like any other emergency room patient and bill them or their insurance companies for care.
Under its legislative proposal, the health department said it will ask lawmakers to prohibit medical providers from billing victims for treatment and to let hospitals directly seek reimbursement from the reparation board.
It also wants lawmakers to remove any requirement that sexual assault victims file a police report to be eligible to have their treatment costs covered by the board.
“It appears the commitment is there to end the mistreatment of rape victims when it comes to unacceptable billing practices,” said Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, in a statement saying she will sponsor the legislation.
The issue surfaced with a story from NOLA.com ‘ The Times-Picayune describing sexual assault victims facing thousands of dollars in medical bills when they sought treatment after their attacks.
The Senate Select Committee on Women and Children heard similar stories Monday.
A New Orleans college student who didn’t give her name described being raped during a weekend trip to Destin. She received treatment at the local privatized LSU hospital, which billed her more than $2,000 after her insurance company wouldn’t cover the treatment costs.
Another woman who also didn’t provide her real name said when her daughter was sexually assaulted, the family received more than $4,200 in bills for medical supplies, medication and hospital treatment.
“It’s as if the victims have no rights through our hospitals. If our homes are broken into, we’re not charged for evidence collection,” said the woman, who spoke to the committee by telephone and used a fake name. “We felt like we were let down by our state government, our local government and just all humanity.”
It’s unclear if the victim’s board will have enough money from court fines to cover the new costs. Health department spokeswoman Olivia Watkins said the agency will work with lawmakers and the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement, which oversees the board, to ensure “appropriate levels of funding.”
Also, the state plans regulatory changes to prohibit the board from considering the sexual assault circumstances to determine medical reimbursement. The board couldn’t consider what a person was wearing or whether the victim was drinking when the assault happened.