Unclaimed Gambling Winnings Targeted To Pay For Rape Exams

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal is targeting unclaimed gambling winnings as a financing source to keep sexual assault victims from having to pay for their own medical exams and treatment, according to the broad outlines of a legislative proposal unveiled Thursday.

         The proposal, to be sponsored by Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, strikes at widespread criticism from victims' advocacy groups and state lawmakers as they've learned that rape victims have been faced with medical bills totaling thousands of dollars.

         Moreno's legislation, announced by Jindal's office, would ban hospitals from billing a victim for sexual assault medical exams and treatment. Health care providers could instead send the payment request to a state crime victim's board.

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         As the Jindal administration and Moreno were developing the plan, questions were raised about whether the Crime Victim's Reparation Board would have enough money to cover the increased costs, with only the dollars it receives from fines levied in criminal court cases.

         To steer more money its way despite state budget shortfalls, Jindal proposes to give the board $2 million from unclaimed and expired slot machine tickets, money that currently stays with casinos.

         Jindal spokesman Mike Reed said that would be used to draw down another $1.2 million in federal matching money.

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         "We are fully committed to supporting individuals who have faced the horrendous crimes of sexual assault," Jindal said in a statement. He described the proposal as "removing unnecessary burdens that have gotten in the way of ensuring that these victims receive the assistance that they deserve."

         The concept will be considered in the legislative session that begins April 13. It wasn't yet clear if the casinos would fight the proposal.

         "We have not participated in the drafting, and we have not seen a draft so we don't have a position yet," said Wade Duty, executive director of the Louisiana Casino Association.

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         Some hospitals don't seek payment from rape victims for their medical exams and treatment, while others treat the victims like any other emergency room patient and bill them or their insurance companies for care.

         Thirty-two states pay for sexual assault forensic examinations through a victim's compensation program, and 38 states prohibit health care providers from charging victims for the exams, according to Washington-based AEquitas: The Prosecutors' Resource on Violence Against Women.

         In addition to addressing the billing concern, Moreno's legislation would remove any requirement that victims file a police report to be eligible to have those costs covered by the crime victim's board. It also would set standardized requirements for handling evidence collection kits in a forensic medical exam, according to the governor's office.

         "We have worked with the administration and victims' advocates to come up with substantial improvements to care and services for victims of sexual assault. This legislation will ensure that the burden of medical expenses will not be placed on the victims," Moreno said in a statement.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte



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