There were many more women like her.
Another victim’s mother spoke at a Louisiana legislative hearing and reported that her family had received a $4,200 medical bill after her daughter went to the hospital following a sexual assault.
Another New Orleans victim told the Times-Picayune that she received a bill for $600 after her insurance covered a portion of her medical costs. Days later, she received another bill, for an additional $1,700.
The reports came as a shock to Louisiana lawmakers, who called for reform. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) ordered an immediate review of the state’s procedures, decrying the double victimization of sexual assault victims.
Jindal is expected to sign two bills that together will reform the practice after the legislation passed unanimously this week.
“Without them coming forward, who knows how much longer this would have persisted?” said state Rep. Helena Moreno (D-New Orleans), the sponsor of both bills, according to the Associated Press.
While the federal Violence Against Women Act prohibits victims from being charged for forensic rape exams, there are other costs — emergency room visits, pregnancy tests, HIV treatment — that must be borne by the victim, her family or an insurance company, who could then pass the cost on to the consumer.
In Louisiana, who pays and when was largely dependent on the parish and the hospital. That will change with this legislation, according to AP:
It would allow health care providers to seek reimbursement from the state crime victims board for the cost of gathering DNA evidence, screening for sexually transmitted diseases and offering pregnancy testing. Hospitals would be allowed to bill a victim’s insurance company with the victim’s permission, but insurers couldn’t require a victim to pay a deductible, co-pay or other share of the costs.
Last year, Jindal’s executive order also took issue with the state’s Crime Victims Reparations Fund that had strict guidelines for who was eligible to have some medical care reimbursed. Among them:
- It required victims to report the assault to law enforcement in order to be eligible, even though most sexual assaults go unreported.
- It denied reimbursement for anyone whose “own behavior contributed to the crime.”
Across the country, however, laws in each state vary widely. Some prohibit state funds from being used to pay for pregnancy tests, emergency contraception or sexually transmitted infection testing, according to Aequitas, an organization that provides assistance to prosecutors in cases of violence against women.
According to the AP, Rebecca O’Connor a policy expert for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, said Louisiana is an “extreme” case. The news service added:
Here, parishes have refused to pay for victims’ medical exams unless they are willing to report their assault to authorities. Authorities in some parishes have also reportedly administered lie detector tests to victims.
The change was a long time coming for victims and advocates.
One victim, who shared her medical records with the Times-Picayune for the paper’s 2014 investigation, said news of the bills’ passage left her in tears.
“It’s a move that says we really support you and we don’t want you to have to suffer any more than you already have,” she said.
This post has been updated and corrected to properly attribute a section of excerpted text to the Associated Press, not Rebecca O’Connor, a policy expert for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.