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Out-of-pocket expenses for sexual assault victims can be high; Missouri offering only forensic exam for free

By Shoshana Stahl

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    SPRINGFIELD, Missouri (KMOV) — The Violence Against Women Act guarantees victims of sexual assault don’t have to pay for forensic exams. Those costs are covered by the state.

However, some survivors are forced to pay out of pocket for other expenses when at the hospital. When a sexual assault victim goes to the hospital, Mercy’s sexual assault program coordinator Dawn Day says the victims are offered medication to prevent sexually transmitted infections and emergency contraception. Dawn says the medication to prevent HIV can cost a victim thousands of dollars. All of that medication is not covered by the state and it can be expensive.

”We used to be able to give one-time doses in the emergency room,” Day says. “The CDC recommends that individuals now have a seven-day prescription of antibiotics which has come at an extra burden of cost because it’s something we’re having to send people out for.”

Within some Mercy hospitals across the state, Day says victims are not charged for any of the medications. The hospital bills the insurance company and then cover the rest of the costs themselves. Day advocates for this to be something covered by the state, that way no victim is ever responsible to pay.

“Why are you not building that into funding where that is part of the forensic cost,” Day says. “We don’t charge for a kit. Why can’t we pull prophylactic medication into forensic care, rather than leave it on the medical side? It truly is part of our forensic care that we offer those medications.”

CoxHealth’s assistant forensic program coordinator Brooke Batesel says there are other ways to get financial support. Batesel says at the time of the exam, victims are given the option to apply for the Missouri Crime Victims Compensation Fund. There are also other ways to offset some of those costs.

“If the patient was willing to go to the health department or OACAC to receive those medications, they could get the STI or pregnancy prophylactic medications at little or no costs from one of those other community partners,” Batesel says.

However, it’s more than just medications. Some victims face serious injuries that require more care at the hospital. Day says she works with patients to keep costs as low as possible.

“Every single patient that leaves the emergency room, I cannot promise them that a bill will not come,” Day says. “I don’t work in accounting. But what I can promise them is that if they do happen to receive a bill from Mercy for anything, they’re provided with my information. They can contact me and we can work together with Mercy billing to see what can happen. If I’m able to put them in contact with resources that cover those costs, we will.”

Day hopes changes will be made within the state to offer those medications at no cost across the board.

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