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A.G. Underwood announces settlements to stop illegal billing for forensic rape examinations

PRESS RELEASE

NEW YORK, N.Y. -- Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood today announced settlements with seven New York hospitals that illegally billed rape survivors for forensic rape examinations ("FREs").

The hospitals include Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center, Columbia University, Montefiore Nyack Hospital, New York Presbyterian/Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Richmond University Medical Center, and St. Barnabas Hospital. Under the terms of the agreements, the hospitals will implement written policies to ensure that sexual assault survivors do not receive bills for their rape examinations, provide full restitution to any improperly billed sexual assault survivors, and pay costs.

"Survivors of sexual assault have already gone through unfathomable trauma; to then subject them to illegal bills and collection calls is unconscionable," said Attorney General Underwood. "Hospitals have a fundamental responsibility to comply with New York law. My office will continue to do everything in our power to protect survivors and their rights."

The investigation into the hospitals follows last year's benchmark settlement with The Brooklyn Hospital Medical Center ("Brooklyn Hospital"), which was initiated after the Attorney General's Office received a complaint that a survivor of sexual assault was billed seven separate times for a forensic rape examination administered in Brooklyn Hospital's emergency room. The investigation into Brooklyn Hospital prompted the Attorney General to launch a statewide investigation of billing practices for FREs at other hospitals. The investigation found pervasive failures to advise patients of their payment options, and widespread unlawful billing of sexual assault survivors.  The ongoing investigation has already revealed at least 200 unlawfully billed FREs at the seven settling hospitals; the bills ranged from approximately $46 to $3,000 each.

New York State Executive Law Section 631(13) provides that when a hospital furnishes services – including a forensic rape examination – to any sexual assault survivor, it shall provide such services to the patient without charge and shall bill the Office of Victim Services ("OVS") directly, or alternatively, the sexual assault survivor may voluntarily opt to assign the costs to private insurance. The purpose of Executive Law 631(13) is to ease payment of FREs by providing for submission of bills to OVS; provide quality exams; and give survivors of sexual assault the ability to choose a means of payment for their FREs, either through the OVS program or their own insurance. Allowing sexual assault survivors to choose to have OVS directly pay for services helps ensure privacy and confidentiality. This increased privacy increases the likelihood that a survivor will submit to the FRE, which in turn increases the ability of law enforcement agencies to identify offenders.

New Yorkers with complaints regarding hospital billing or other health-care related issues may contact the Attorney General's Health Care Helpline at 1-800-428-9071.

"We commend Attorney General Underwood for taking this critical step in ending the unlawful practice of billing rape survivors for their Forensic Rape Examinations," said Sonia Ossorio, President, National Organization for Women – New York. "It is of the utmost importance that survivors are given every tool and support possible to come forward, report the crime if that is what they wish to do, and to lower any barriers to reporting."

"When the Alliance spoke to Attorney General's office about a survivor who had been wrongly charged for a forensic exam, we believed it was an isolated case. A lot of credit must go to the New State Attorney General for investigating this issue and unearthing numerous violations of this law," said Mary Haviland, Esq., Executive Director, NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault. "The law is clear. It directs hospitals to charge the New York State Office of Victim Services for all sexual assault forensic exams. No survivor of sexual assault should be charged for a forensic exam in a hospital Emergency Room."

"We are grateful to the Attorney General's Office for its ongoing commitment to ensuring that survivors of sexual assault in New York State receive the full range of medical services to which they are entitled under New York State law, regardless of which emergency department they visit," said Christopher E. Bromson, Executive Director, Crime Victims Treatment Center. "We are grateful that institutions that violate those laws are being held accountable. As the state's oldest rape crisis program, CVTC shares the office's commitment to ensuring the provision of free and comprehensive care to every sexual assault survivor who seeks it."

"Hospitals are places for care and healing and no one who seeks help after a sexual assault should be re-traumatized by being billed for the processing of a rape kit," said Hon. Judy Harris Kluger, executive director of Sanctuary for Families. "The collection of evidence itself takes a physical and emotional toll, as our clients have attested to. We applaud the Attorney General's office for continuing to investigate the indefensible practice of charging sexual assault survivors for forensic rape examinations."

"Safe Horizon is grateful to Attorney General Barbara Underwood for expanding her office's investigation into hospitals that unlawfully require sexual assault survivors to cover the cost of their rape kits," said Ariel Zwang, CEO, Safe Horizon. "It is shocking that protections enacted into law through the Violence Against Women Act have been routinely ignored at great financial and emotional cost to survivors. We applaud Attorney General Underwood for her diligent and thorough investigation and for her ongoing commitment to supporting sexual assault survivors across New York State."

The investigations were conducted by Assistant Attorneys General Dorothea Caldwell-Brown, Adrienne Lawston, and Jennifer Simcovitch of the Attorney General's Health Care Bureau with the assistance of Researcher Anushua Choudhury from the Research and Analytics Department, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Susan J. Cameron and Bureau Chief Lisa Landau. The Health Care Bureau is part of the Social Justice Division, led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Matthew Colangelo.