BATON ROUGE — Gov. Bobby Jindal is seeking to push through legislation that would take the burden of paying a hospital bill off of the sexual assault victim.
“We are fully committed to supporting individuals who have faced the horrendous crimes of sexual assault,” Jindal said in a news release. “This legislation will build on our efforts to support and protect these individuals by providing consistent care to victims in need and by removing unnecessary burdens that have gotten in the way of ensuring that these victims receive the assistance that they deserve.”
According to the governor’s office, “this legislation will ensure that hospitals do not directly bill those individuals for medical services associated with sexual assault.”
It goes further to remove the requirement that victims report the crime to law enforcement within 72 hours of the incident in order to be eligible to apply for reparations from the Crime Victims Reparations Board.
Jim Williams, chief financial officer for Minden Medical Center, says billing depends on whether the victim files charges.
“If the patient files charges, we bill the patient’s insurance company for the emergency visit,” he said. “If the patient is not insured, we work with other agencies to get reimbursement for medical treatment. When the patient does not file charges, then we seek reimbursement from the patient’s insurance or the patient. The Victim of Crime fund [sic] will only pay if the patient files charges.”
Officials with the governor’s office say services to the victim of a sexual assault vary across the state, but this legislation, if passed, will smooth the road for the victims and their families.
Donna Carter, CNO for MMC, says it is important to provide care in a manner where the patient feels safe.
“It is important to protect the patient’s rights while we focus on providing care in a non-judgmental manner,” she said. “We work in collaboration with a patient advocate and (Sexual Assault Nurse Exam) nurse. The patient advocate and SANE nurse stay with the patient until they are in a safe place after discharge.”
Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy H. Kliebert says this legislation will “correct the system.”
“The manner in which we care for and respond to victims of sexual assault is a direct reflection of the strength of our communities,” she said. “This critical legislation…reduces barriers for men and women to speak up when a crime against them has been committed.”
In 2014, emergency personnel at MMC treated five sexual assault victims. In that same year, Chief Steve Cropper says the Minden Police Department has worked 32 sexual assault cases,10 so far this year.
Officials with the Webster Parish Sheriff’s Office say 28 cases were worked across the parish.
Those included eight rape cases, seven cases of indecent behavior, eight molestation cases, one aggravated incest case, two cases of sexting, one pornography case and one case of sexual battery.
“Our sexual assault cases are handled priority-wise,” Sheriff Gary Sexton said. “They are considered to be a violent crime, and what we normally do is the victim goes to the hospital and we call the SANE nurse, especially if the allegations are that a rape has taken place or sexual assault case where one of the parties is not in consent.”
Sexual assault, he says, is defined as any improper touching and could go as deep as a conversation.
“An assault is putting yourself into a position where you could carry out a threat,” he said. “A battery is where you actually touch somebody. Sexual assault is the carrying out of a threat of touching, or the inappropriate actions of an individual towards another in any kind of sexual manner, when one party is not in agreement to it.”
Rep. Helena Moreno is the author of the Stand and Support Survivors bill, and the full text can be found on the Louisiana Legislators website. The 2015 legislative session begins April 13.