Sex assault victims billed for rape kits will be reimbursed

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NEW YORK (AP) - Dozens of sexual assault survivors were improperly billed for their rape exams by a New York City hospital, the state's attorney general said Tuesday.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said that under an agreement with his office, the Brooklyn Hospital Center will reimburse patients who paid out of pocket for a rape kit and will inform rape survivors going forward that under a 2005 New York state law the rape kits can be billed to the state's Office of Victim Services.

Schneiderman said he has also sent letters to 10 other hospitals throughout the state seeking information on how they bill sexual assault survivors and hopes the agreement with Brooklyn Hospital will serve as a model.

"These kits are used on what is undoubtedly one of the worst days of a survivor's life," Schneiderman said. "The absolute last thing they should have to worry about is how they'll pay for their care at the hospital. But we have found contrary to law that way too often they do have to worry."

Schneiderman said a woman contacted his office in January about her experience being treated at Brooklyn Hospital after she was sexually assaulted in 2015.

"After her visit, in complete violation of state law, she was billed seven different times for her rape kit, hundreds of dollars each time," Schneiderman said.

He said that when the woman did not pay the bill, the hospital sent it to a collection agency, which he called "intolerable."

Brooklyn Hospital said in a statement that it regrets "the inadvertent breakdown in our billing processes related to sexual assault victims." Spokeswoman Kim Flodin said the hospital worked with Schneiderman's office to develop protocols "to ensure that these billing issues do not occur again."

The federal Violence Against Women Act prohibits hospitals from charging assault survivors for their rape kits, but advocates say enforcement of the law has been haphazard. States including Louisiana and Illinois have also passed laws to make sure survivors aren't charged for the kits.

Schneiderman said his office investigated and found that in all but one of the 86 forensic rape exams conducted at Brooklyn Hospital between January 2015 and February 2017, the hospital either improperly billed the patient or billed the patient's insurance carrier without advising the patient of the option to bill the state.

Schneiderman said it's unclear how many other hospitals are improperly billing patients for rape kits.

Advocates for sexual assault survivors praised the agreement with Brooklyn Hospital.

"Think about it for a moment, how traumatic is sexual assault?" said Sonia Ossorio, president of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women, who joined Schneiderman at a news conference at his Manhattan office. "And it's re-traumatizing to have bills arrive in the mail asking you to pay for basically what is collection of evidence of a crime scene."

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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