Sexual Assault Survivors Often Charged Thousands in Hospital Bills, Study Finds
Despite federal laws prohibiting the charging of medical bills caused by a sexual assault, a new study has found more than 15% of survivors are still being asked to pay out-of-pocket expenses, averaging thousands of dollars.
Findings published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine highlight several gaps in the existing restrictions on medical billing for sexual assault survivors.
Researchers from Planned Parenthood and City University of New York at Hunter College report that despite the Violence Against Women Act, which is a federal law that was enacted in 1994 that prohibits sexual assault survivors from being charged for forensic exams, several services still are submitted to health insurance carriers or billed or directly to the victim.
The study involved a review of data on approximately 113,000 emergency department visits for survivors of sexual violence reported to the Department of Health and Human Services for 2019, finding 16% of victims, whether covered under health insurance or without, suffered financial losses.
The report indicates 16% of survivors suffered financial loss, with the average cost of medical billing to the patient amounting to $3,551 per person. For sexual assault survivors that were pregnant at the time, the average out-of-pocket costs increased drastically, with an average of $4,553 per person. The average cost of care for uninsured patients was $3,673.
The report found in several instances where survivors were charged for the exams and services provided by specialists, emergency contraception or treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Additional services found to be excluded from the federal law’s billing rules were services needed following the immediate evaluation, which included diagnostic testing, counseling, pregnancy tests or other services not considered part of that exam.
Researchers warn that these costs disproportionately affect low-income women and called for the Violence Against Women Act to be expanded to cover all services connected to sexual assault.
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