Governor's order lifts the burden of medical bills for rape victims

Governor's order lifts the burden of medical bills for rape victims

Sexual assault victims in the state won't have the added burden of hefty medical bills. Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an executive order, the first step in a series of sweeping changes for victims.

Mary Claire Landry runs the New Orleans Family Justice Center. Since September, when news first broke about hospitals charging victims thousands of dollars for medical services, Landry says her office has been inundated with calls from worried women. "We're really glad it's getting some attention," Landry said.

Just a few months ago, a student from New Orleans testified before lawmakers in Baton Rouge about her horrific experience, explaining, "These were people that I thought I trusted. For two nights in a row I was raped and sexually assaulted."

The student says she was then billed for her hospital medical exam.

Jindal signed an executive order Tuesday which requires hospitals and doctor's offices to submit bills to the state crime victim's reparation board, instead of sending them to the victims themselves.

State Rep. Helena Moreno says, "This is pretty much a temporary solution to a problem that we're going to fix permanently during the legislative session."

Moreno says right now, there isn't enough money in the crime victims fund which is why she'll sponsor a series of bills during the session to create an additional revenue stream and she wants to put more safeguards in place for victims. One example, in the executive order, it says if women don't report a sexual assault to police for a year, they can still get out of being charged. Moreno wants even stronger language, explaining, "We want to say that the victim does not ever have to report it to police and she still is not going to receive a bill."

Jindal's executive order also tells the Health Department to outline minimum standards for handling rape kits and to ensure rape victims have access to a medical exam.

Mary Claire Landry thinks the added attention to the issue will not only help the thousand or so victims who report being raped in the state each year, but also the many more who are often too afraid to report the crime.

Helena Moreno says ideas are still being considered as to how the state can raise extra money for the crime victims fund but one thought is to put additional fees in place or to better collect fees around the state, that are already in place.

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