A recent study reveals that hospitals around the country interpret a rule set down by the Violence Against Women Act – that rape victims should not have to pay to be examined at the hospital after being sexually assaulted – very differently.
As Kaiser Health News reports, the Urban Institute study indicates that billing for post-rape examinations differs state-by-state, resulting in a hodgepodge of experiences for individuals that's entirely dependent on where they live. Under the VAWA Act, no matter what state a victim lives in, he or she is entitled to a free forensic medical examination, whether or not they intend to file a police report. These exams/rape kits are typically paid for through victim compensation funds, which collect money via fines from convicted rapists and other government sources. In states that don't fully cover an exam, the rest of the cost of the exam can typically be covered by insurance, though many victims don't want to file an insurance claim for privacy reasons (and not everyone has insurance).
Though these exams are often free, they are not always wholly complete. Where an exam takes place dictates what kind of pregnancy testing and STI screening a patient will receive:
Only one case-study state routinely covers testing or treatment for injuries (e.g., X-rays, computed tomography scans [CT or CAT scans], treatment for broken bones) that occurred during the assault, but only a small portion. Another state covers treatment of injuries only under certain circumstances.
"In some places, the system is seamless," Janine Zweig, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and the study's lead author told Kaiser News. "In others, however, hospital administrators didn't know what they were dealing with and were billing incorrectly."
In 2015, the VAWA reauthorization will extend the law slightly to make it so that victims don't have to pay for a rape kit and be reimbursed later. States will still be able to ask victims to submit insurance claims, but those individuals won't have to pay a copayment or deductible. But considering the "patchwork" quality this system has, it could take time for the new rules to lead to any real consistency.
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