Last year, a Georgia woman created a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for the medical fees—almost $1,500—she incurred after being sexually assaulted. "I was attacked over a year ago and today I got a hospital bill for my emergency room visit," she wrote in her campaign. "I'm not financially able to afford the bill. I would really appreciate any help I could get."
While the Violence Against Women Act prohibits survivors of sexual assault from being billed the cost of a rape kit, it doesn't protect victims from being billed for additional tests and prescriptions incurred during an emergency room visit after an attack. A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health offers a snapshot of just how expensive rape can be.
Using the Truven Health Analytics MarketScan database, researchers analyzed the hospital bills of privately insured women from 2013 and identified 1,355 incidents where patients received care in the emergency room for rape. In total, insurance providers and victims paid more than $9 million that year for related medical services. The average rape cost was $6,737, of which most was covered by insurance. However, victims on average came out of pocket $948.
Of the sample, 32 patients were admitted to the hospital and paid an average of $788 just for the inpatient stay. Researchers also looked at the cost of prescriptions for antibiotics, pain medication, anti-anxiety medication, HIV prevention, and emergency contraception: "For days 1 to 30, 42% of victims paid a total of $31,601 in prescription cost; average amount per victim was $56," the study states.
"Each rape victim is unique, and the care, as well as resources, accessed after assault are predicated upon myriad circumstances," the study's authors write. "However, all survivors of an assault are victims, and the responsibility for remitting payment for medical bills incurred as a result of a rape should not be the responsibility of the victim or her family."
Most hospitals do not differentiate between victims of sexual assault and victims who present to the emergency department with any other chief complaint, such as a heart attack or if the victim has been stabbed
Ashley Tennessee, an assistant professor of health care studies at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, is the lead author of the study. Overall, she tells Broadly, the study seeks to draw more attention to the financial and emotional burden of sexual assault. "It's still a prevalent crime, and victims should be our priority as a society—not protecting the pocketbooks of insurance providers. Victims should never have to pay for a crime that was committed against them."
In addition to providing additional data on how survivors deal with the effects of being raped long after the assault is over, Tennessee and her co-authors also offered suggestions on how lawmakers could address this "serious public health issue." One proposal is for health care systems to use a different billing process for victims of sexual assault.
If victims of sexual assault are identified as potential charity care cases when they're first admitted to the emergency room, Tennessee explains, the hospital could cover any costs not covered by insurance by using grant funds or absorbing those fees. That way, she says, those patients can be spared retraumatization by not having to receive a hospital bill.
"Most hospitals do not differentiate between victims of sexual assault and victims who present to the emergency department with any other chief complaint, such as a heart attack or if the victim has been stabbed," Tennessee explains. "And that's where the problem begins. Sexual assault victims and someone who is a victim of a congestive heart failure anomaly should not be looked at in the same regard."