Change pledged to prevent victims from paying for rape-related medical costs

Published: Sep. 29, 2014 at 10:18 PM CDT
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State officials said they plan to take quick action to stop private hospitals from billing rape victims for emergency medical expenses.

FOX 8's partners at | The Times Picayune first reported that victims are paying thousands of dollars for things like emergency room visits and HIV medications at some Louisiana hospitals.

On Monday, sexual assault survivor Dana Asevado explained to FOX 8 what the change could mean for victims.

"Who knows what that person may have had that you could have yourself?" said Dana Asevado.

Asevado said there are enough emotional and medical questions running through your mind after an attack, and whether you will be billed for an emergency visit to the hospital should not be one of them.

"It's putting it back on you," Asevado said. "They're making you feel like you did this, it's your fault, and now you've got to pay for it."

Though state and federal guidelines say victims should not pay for care related to sex crimes, advocates say victims who visit some Louisiana hospitals have been sent home with bills adding up to thousands of dollars.

"When it comes to a rape victim, they should never receive a bill. Period," said Sen. J.P. Morrell.

Advocates point to unclear mandates that do not explain exactly what falls under that care.

State Sen. J.P. Morrell said though the charity system used to absorb all costs, some recently privatized hospitals are charging patients for things like HIV and pregnancy tests.

"It's almost treated by these institutions like they're elective," said Morrell. "Like the rape kit, well you know that was the part the government pays for, but you deciding to not catch chlamydia, you deciding to not have a kid by the person who raped you, you deciding to get treatment for the bruises and cuts, that's all on you."

Asevado said clarifying payment responsibilities will be extremely important in terms of encouraging victims to come forward and stopping attackers.

"If the medical field is not there for you, what's going to make you think that the sheriff's office is going to be there or be any different?" said Asevado.

Abused repeatedly as a child by two attackers, Asevado said it took years and other victims of the same men sharing their stories for her to come forward.

"It takes a lot of courage," said Asevado. "You have to have family of course and support and friends, but in the end, the feeling that you get - I can't even explain the feeling you get when the judge said they were both found guilty for of all the offenses."

So, she said nothing, especially the hospital system, should make reporting a sex crime any more difficult that it already is.

Morrell said he and Rep. Helena Moreno are working on legislation regarding the issue and working with the Department of Health and Hospitals on the matter.

They're looking in to whether the legislation should require insurance agencies to cover all costs, if Medicaid or Medicare should cover costs or if the bill should generally prohibit hospitals from billing sexual assault patients.

Click here to learn about the resources available for sexual assault victims at the New Orleans Family Justice Center.

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