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

A bill introduced Monday in the House of Representatives would require private health insurance to cover forensic exams for sexual assault survivors in full.

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

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

But some patients are charged anyway, either because of a hospital error or because the exam was not performed by a specially trained doctor. For an exam to be free under the law, it must be done by a licensed nurse known as a sexual assault nurse examiner, or SANE, but many victims of sexual violence don’t know how to look for one.

The new bill was presented by the representatives. Linda T. Sanchez, D-Calif.; Gwen Moore, Democrat from Wisconsin; and Carol Miller, RW.Va. It would give the departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services the authority to designate types of providers beyond SANE that would be eligible to perform forensic exams that would be fully covered by private insurance, beginning in 2025. Lawmakers’ The Hope is that privately insured survivors are not billed for an exam, regardless of where it’s done.

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 apply for proper reimbursement.

In addition, the bill called the No Surprises for Survivors Act stipulates that forensic medical exams should be considered an emergency service under the No Surprises Act, a 2020 law that protects people with private insurance from receiving surprise medical bills in certain ways. of emergency care.

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

A march study published by KFF, a health-focused nonprofit think tank formerly known as the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that two-thirds of women with private insurance who likely received a forensic exam after a sexual assault between 2016 and 2018 were charged them out of pocket for at least one standard service included in that exam. The women spent $347, on average.

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

However, the bill would not affect additional medical services that some survivors are charged for. as part of an emergency visit, such as pregnancy testing, emergency contraception, or testing or treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Only a few states require such 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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