Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal issued an executive order on Monday calling for the immediate revision of the state's rules that determine the eligibility of rape and sexual assault victims looking for state-compensation for medical charges directly relating to their assaults. Jindal called for an end to double victimization of Louisiana rape victims who are often billed thousands of dollars from hospitals for health exams and tests.
Jindal issued his orders in the hours following a tense meeting of Louisiana state lawmakers and state health officials on Monday that addressed the state's Victims Reparations Fund. The governor's orders demand that the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement reconstruct its rules to better protect sexual assault victims. The state currently requires conditional circumstances for victims to qualify for medical cost compensation through the fund, which prevents many victims from being eligible to receive the funding, leaving them with large personal debts.
"We should not be victimizing people twice with hefty bills or uncomfortable investigations," Jindal's spokesperson Shannon Bates said. "Sexual assault is a heinous crime that causes a tremendous amount of suffering and we want to do everything we can to protect the victims of these terrible acts."
For a sexual assault victim that does not have health insurance, the costs she might incur by taking a trip to the hospital to be examined and checked out for sexually transmitted diseases can be hefty. One unidentified Louisiana mother told a Louisiana Senate Select Committee on Women and Children on Monday that when her daughter was sexually assaulted and they took her to get treatment, the family received a bill for over $4,200 for medical supplies, medicine, and hospital treatment.
"It's as if the victims have no rights through our hospitals. If our homes are broken into, we're not charged for evidence collection," the mother said. "We felt like we like we were let down by our state government, our local government and just all humanity."
Even victims with health coverage have found that certain insurance plans won't cover treatment costs. An unnamed New Orleans college student told the committee that after she was raped on a weekend trip and went to a private LSU hospital, she received bills totaling over $2,000 and her health insurance refused to cover the treatment.
"You never really think, 'is rape covered by insurance?'" The New Orleans women told The New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Although the state's Crime Victims Reparations Board currently offers reimbursement to sexual assault victims, there are conditions in which victims need to qualify to receive the reimbursement. For instance, a victim will not receive reimbursement if they did not file a police report of the incident. Research from the Department of Justice indicates that about two-thirds of sexual assault victims in America never even go to the police.
In his executive order, Jindal said that victims should not be excluded from the compensation offered by the Crime Victims Reparations Board just because they don't meet the list of requirements. Jindal believes factors such as how victims are dressed, where the incident occurred, whether or not the victim had been in a relationship with the aggressor, or whether or not alcohol was a factor should not matter when a victim seeks reimbursement from the state.
The Louisiana Department of Health said Monday that it will try to lobby for bans on hospitals billing sexual assault victims for their exams and tests. Proposed changes to the law will be brought forth by the Department of Health and Hospitals in the state's legislative session starting in April. The changes proposed by the DHH will prohibit hospitals from billing the victims. Under the proposed changes, hospitals and care providers would have to apply for state compensation directly.
"It appears the commitment is there to end the mistreatment of rape victims when it comes to unacceptable billing practices," Democrat state Rep. Helena Moreno said in a statement where she claimed she would sponsor the legislation.