North Carolina leaders are vowing to pay for hospital tests done on patients examined for sexual assault, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. The newspaper reported Wednesday that the vast majority of the 3,000 or so North Carolinians examined each year in emergency departments for rape are forced to pay a share of the bill. The news surprised leaders of House and Senate committees that set funding for public safety programs. They agreed to search for money when they reconvene in May. “This is so maddening. The problem was hidden from view,” said Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee for Justice and Public Safety. “We have an obligation to deal with this.” If the state fully picked up the tab for the exams, which capture biological evidence, it could cost $4.8 million.
Hospitals bill a patient’s private insurer for the exam. What the insurer doesn’t cover falls to the patient. For some, the bill is several hundred dollars. The state sets aside $258,000 a year to help cover rape kit exams for uninsured people. Reimbursements, however, have been capped at $1,000, even though the average bill tops $1,600. While some hospitals forgive the balance, others don’t. They collect from the victim. Bryan Beatty, secretary of the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, said that his department would immediately eliminate the $1,000 cap and pay any reasonable bill for an uninsured patient receiving a rape kit exam.