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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Hospitals should not be billing rape victims for forensic medical evaluations and care, state legislators and others say.
They responded to a NOLA.comThe Times-Picayune report (http://bit.ly/1vkFVSZ) that some victims are getting billed $1,700 to $4,000 even though state and federal guidelines require many of the services to be free for victims. Practices vary widely among hospitals and parishes, it said.
"I had no idea that was happening," said state Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans. "Talk about being traumatized twice."
Soon after the article and video were published online, the state Department of Health and Hospitals released a statement saying officials will work with the Legislature to change things, the news organization (http://bit.ly/1uwo7rf) reported.
"We take a strong stand against sexual violence," said spokeswoman Olivia Watkins. "Our heart goes out to victims of these crimes."
The DHH statement blamed the billings on "disjointed local parish health policies" and "a poor legacy charity system that was run inefficiently for many years."
State Sen. J.P. Morrell says he was already looking for a possible legislative solution.
Interim LSU Hospital does not charge victims for collecting evidence but does bill for tests to see if they are pregnant or have HIV, officials said.
Private hospital managers cannot afford to continue the public hospitals' practice of using any means to support victims of violent crime, because that contributed to their insolvency, said Dr. Frank Opelka, executive vice president for the public LSU system of hospitals and leader of Gov. Bobby Jindal's effort to privatize them.
He suggested putting the bill on health insurance and Medicaid. "I think we should have — and I would strongly support — a statewide policy that your benefits package should include this as an essential benefit," he said. "It's not time to worry about how you're going to pay for this."
Racheal Hebert, executive director of Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response, a victims advocacy group in Baton Rouge, said that the news story sparked needed conversation about an issue that for too long has gone unnoticed.
Now begins the hard part: trying to find solutions.
"I want to see something that is not just a Band-Aid fix," said Amanda Tonkovich, coordinator for the New Orleans Sexual Assault Response Team who also counsels rape victims through her work with the New Orleans Family Justice Center.
The government should take responsibility, Hebert said.
Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com
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