New bill aims to reduce surprise medical bills for sexual assault survivors

A bill introduced in the House of Representatives on Monday would require private health insurance to fully cover forensic examinations of victims of sexual assault.

The legislation comes after research published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that nearly 18,000 of 113,000 sexual violence-related emergency room visits in 2019 resulted in out-of-pocket payments for survivors. The average cost was $3,551 per person.

The Violence Against Women Act, a federal law enacted in 1994, states that victims of sexual assault cannot be charged with a forensic examination, which involves treating people for immediate injuries and to collect evidence necessary for an investigation, such as blood, urine, skin or hair samples.

But some patients are still charged, either because of hospital error or because the exam was not performed by a specially trained clinician. For an exam to be free under the law, it must be performed by a licensed nurse known as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, or SANE, but many survivors of sexual violence don’t know how to look that.

The new bill was introduced by Representatives Linda T. Sánchez, D-California; Gwen Moore, D-Wis.; and Carol Miller, RW.Va. This would give the Departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services the authority to designate types of providers other than SANEs who would be eligible to perform forensic examinations that would be fully covered by private insurance, from of 2025. The hope is that survivors with private insurance will not be charged for an exam, regardless of where it is performed.

If a victim is billed for costs for which the state is legally responsible under the Violence Against Women Act, the proposed law would also require private insurers to tell survivors how to claim reimbursement. appropriate.

Additionally, the bill, called the No Surprises for Survivors Act, states that forensic examinations should be considered an emergency service under the No Surprises Act, a 2020 law that protects people on medical private insurance against receiving surprise medical bills for certain forms of emergency care. .

“This legislation is needed because too many survivors, dealing with trauma, are also burdened with the cost of a forensic examination – even though they shouldn’t be,” Moore said in a statement.

A March study published by KFF, a nonprofit health-focused think tank formerly known as the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that two-thirds of privately insured women who likely had a medical exam legal after sexual assault from 2016 to 2018 were charged with -Pocketing for at least one standard service included in this review. Women spent $347 on average.

“Unfortunately, many survivors still find themselves stuck with unexpected charges,” Sánchez said in a statement. “Our bipartisan bill will help right that wrong.”

The bill, however, would not affect additional medical services billed to some survivors. as part of an emergency visit, such as pregnancy tests, emergency contraception, or testing or treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Only some states require these services to be free. The KFF report found that 17 states cover the costs of STI testing, 15 cover HIV preventive treatment, and 11 cover emergency contraception.

The Ways and Means Committee is expected to consider the new bill at a meeting on Wednesday as part of a broader package of mental health and consumer protection bills.

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