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Health

Getting Sexual Assault Victims' Medical Bills Paid

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For victims of sexual assault who decide to go to the hospital, it’s likely they’ll get a bill for their treatment.  But Louisiana is trying to change that.

Back in December, Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order that makes it simpler for patients to get help with the cost – even take it off their hands entirely. 

When a patient walks into a hospital after a sexual assault, and they've reported it to the police, they're going to get a forensic exam.

Racheal Hebert, Executive Director of Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response in Baton Rouge, says that usually includes a head-to-toe inspection to collect any physical evidence.

“Once the evidence is collected, it’s sealed and sent to the crime lab," she said.

The federal Violence Against Women Act requires that patients not be charged for the forensic exam.

But for any other medical treatment -- like an HIV test or stitches for a wound -- if it’s not part of collecting evidence, the patient has to handle the bill.

Bob Wertz with the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement says it can be anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000. He says the Crime Victim Reparations Board has long helped to pay medical bills for victims of violent crime -- sexual assault or otherwise -- if it’s reported to police within 72 hours.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive order, issued in December, allows hospitals to file a claim on behalf of the patient if a sexual assault has been reported.

"The victim wouldn’t even have to get involved. The direct billing would be between the hospital and the Crime Victim Reparations program," Wertz said.

And now sexual assault victims can get their medical bills paid for, even if they don’t report it to police in that short 72-hour time frame. Under the executive order, victims have a year to report an assault to police to get a medical bill claim processed through Crime Victim Reparations.

According to the Department of Justice, sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes in the US, with just under 40 percent of victims going to the police. If Louisiana can allow more time for the crime to be reported and ensure the survivor won’t be billed, then maybe more people will come forward.