Local News

Cape Fear Valley defends its billing of rape victims for medical costs

Posted January 31, 2020 5:18 p.m. EST
Updated January 31, 2020 8:41 p.m. EST

— After recently saying that rape victims or their insurers were mistakenly billed for the costs of tests to collect evidence in their cases, Cape Fear Valley Medical Center on Friday defended its billing of victims for related hospital costs.

The Fayetteville hospital last year charged 17 rape victims up to $4,000 for sexual assault evidence kit tests. After WRAL News reported the issue last week, hospital spokeswoman Janet Conway said the cases "slipped through the cracks," noting billing rape victims was against hospital policy and that the charges would be voided.

Charging rape victims for evidence collection tests is actually against North Carolina law. Legislation passed more than a decade ago requires hospitals to bill the state Crime Victims Compensation Fund instead.

"This was the spirit of the law, that we would not bill victims for being raped," said Deanna Gerdes, executive director of Rape Crisis Volunteers of Cumberland County.

But the state Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Crime Victims Compensation Fund, said Cape Fear Valley hasn't submitted a single bill to the fund for rape kit testing over the past year.

Instead, Gerdes said, Cape Fear Valley continues sending bills to victims, arguing "that they're not charging for the actual rape kit but all the other things that go into being a patient at a hospital."

WRAL obtained an itemized bill from a victim who was charged more than $5,000, inlcuding $820 for medication, more than $1,400 for laboratory tests and $2,922 for the use of the emergency room, even though she was in the hospital for only two hours.

"I am pretty sure that they did not expect these rape kits to be performed in the parking lot," Gerdes said of the legislators who passed the 2009 law. "They knew they were going to be performed in a health care facility."

Cape Fear Valley "has always followed the statutory requirements," Conway said in a statement Friday, noting that the hospital's billing system doesn't even include a code for sex assault kits.

"North Carolina law does allow Cape Fear Valley to bill and receive compensation for services provided other than the forensic medical examination and rape kit," the statement said. "A comprehensive examination of all injuries arising from a sexual assault is a vital part of providing medical care and treatment to a victim. A thorough examination also provides official medical documentation of a non-consensual assault for prosecution purposes."

The statement also noted that victims "must prove that all other potential payers have been billed" before seeking reimbursement from the Crime Victims Compensation Fund, so the hospital bills help fulfill that requirement.

The father of the woman who was billed $5,000 said he has been harassed by bill collectors on behalf of the hospital.

"At one point, I told the lady, I said, 'Ma'am, if you call my phone one more time, I'm going to put a retraining order on you because this right here is traumatizing,'" the father said.

Since then, he said, he hasn't gotten any more collection calls, but he said he believes the situation has hurt his credit.

State Rep. Billy Richardson, D-Cumberland, said he is considering rewriting the law to include an itemized list of things medical facilities can't charge for when it comes to rape victims.

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