Uninsured sex assault survivors billed thousands for medical care, study finds

Uninsured sex assault survivors billed thousands for medical care, study finds

According to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Why is this important: The majority of sexually assaulted people do not talk about their assaults due to trauma, stigma and fear. But the possibility of being billed such high health care costs can be even more “deterrent,” said Samuel Dickman, a physician at Planned Parenthood of Montana and co-author of the study.

Details: The study found that in 2019, more than 112,000 sexual assault survivors sought emergency care. More than 17,000 were uninsured and faced medical bills averaging $3,673.

  • Victims who were pregnant had the highest charges at $4,553 in 2019.
  • Those costs are “definitely higher” now, said Steffie Woolhandler, a physician and study co-author. “Health care costs have been rising year over year in the United States.”

State of play: The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) guarantees full coverage of Sexual Assault Evidence Kits, commonly referred to as “rape kits”, to victims of sexual violence.

  • However, victims still face costs for other medical care that may be needed as a result of sexual assault, such as treatment for injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, and emergency contraceptives.
  • Study authors call for expansion of VAWA, as well as universal health care coverage, “to ensure costs are not a barrier to essential medical care and forensic assessment in cases of sexual assault.

Between the lines: While under federal law hospitals are prohibited from charging victims for rape kits, some are still being charged for such services, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

What they say : “There are a lot of reasons why people don’t report a rape, but the health center system billing victims of sexual assault is really compounding the trauma, compounding the stigma, and compounding the economic harm of a sexual assault,” Woolhandler said.

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