BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Sexual assault victims in Louisiana should not have to pay for their treatment in emergency rooms, the health department said Monday, announcing a proposal that would have a state victims' assistance board finance the exams.
Currently, the state's Crime Victim's Reparation Board can't accept bills directly from the medical provider for treatment of rape and sexual assault victims, and women who don't file a police report have been deemed ineligible for reimbursement. The Department of Health and Hospitals 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 ban medical providers from billing victims for treatment and let hospitals directly seek reimbursement from the reparation board. The recommendation comes 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 department also wants lawmakers to remove any requirement that sexual assault victims file a police report to be eligible to have their basic medical treatment costs for sexually transmitted disease tests, injuries, gynecology exams and other care 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.
Thirty-two states pay for sexual assault forensic examinations through a victim's compensation program, and 38 states prohibit health care providers from charging victims for the exams, according to Washington-based AEquitas: The Prosecutors' Resource on Violence Against Women.
The issue surfaced in Louisiana 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 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."