When I learned that the most recent version of the American Health Care Act allows insurers to classify rape as a preexisting condition (and thus puts survivors at risk for increased costs and denial of coverage), my initial inclination was to pull out a calculator.
I started typing in numbers. After an older student chose to rape me during my second week in college, the bills had quickly started piling up. I paid for doctors’ visits, weekly therapy appointments and medication to treat my PTSD, anxiety and depression. I had medical insurance at the time, but that only covered part of the expenses. I had tried to avoid thinking about the number of bills I was receiving from medical providers because it stung too much. I hadn’t chosen to bear these costs, and every penny I spent was a reminder that I didn’t have a say in any of this — the rape itself, as well as the aftermath. I had hated that I was losing my savings and forcing my family to spend so much on me.
Still, the medical bills were only part of it. For me, there were too many extra expenses to count. My rent doubled when I moved to a single dorm room to live by myself, because I couldn’t sleep unless I locked the door and pushed furniture up against it. I shelled out the gas money to drive to my parents’ house an hour away most weekends because I feared that the same person might find me again. I extended my classes into winter break and stayed on to finish my school work at additional cost while everyone else went home to their families. The numbers kept getting higher and higher.
There were also subtle costs that no one talks about: I found that I couldn’t sleep in my own bed without thinking of all the times that I lay there, unable to get up, so I threw out many of my belongings and replaced them. I was hopeful that something as small as a change in decor might somehow stop the flashbacks. When my nightmares and panic attacks continued, I realized that I needed some distance from the place where I had been raped so that I could begin to feel even remotely safe. At a substantial cost, I packed up my things and moved across the country.
Years later, I still incur expenses from my trauma on a weekly basis. People often talk about the immediate costs of rape (such as getting a rape kit) but fail to consider the long-lasting treatment that is needed and the additional costs that develop over time. When combined, these expenses make it impossible for many survivors to access the resources they need. Furthermore, denial of coverage would discourage survivors from seeking out assistance immediately after the rape, as evidence of a sexual assault within their medical records could exclude them from coverage going forward. And years down the line, no survivor wants to revisit their trauma with an insurance company simply to purchase coverage.
I was never able to tally up all the costs I incurred after my rape. I got exhausted just trying to add up the ones that piled up in the immediate aftermath, not to mention the ones that still arise today. And my case isn’t the worst example out there: Ultimately, because I continued to receive the help I needed, I have been able to put my life back together and feel strong again over time. I learned that helping others who had similarly suffered was part of my personal recovery process, so I became an attorney for survivors of sexual violence. However, it is crucial to consider that my own experience is of a rape survivor who had access to treatment and support. I had the ability to pay for the services I needed. If rape survivors are now denied insurance coverage, it will become impossible for them to heal, effectively burdening those who are already suffering the most. Many rape survivors cannot pay the significant expenses incurred in the aftermath. They need assistance without being forced to pay a premium for their trauma and denied coverage altogether. Lawmakers have a responsibility to reject bills that inappropriately rely on our status as survivors to diminish our worth. Our suffering cannot be reduced to a “preexisting condition” that allows insurers to turn us away at will.