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300 Groups Say The Senate Health Care Bill Would Hurt Rape And Child Abuse Victims

Viral claims about rape becoming a preexisting condition may have been debunked, but advocates still warn that changes to national health care law could make insurance unaffordable for sexual assault survivors.

Originally posted on
Updated on
Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Whip John Cornyn speak to the press after Republican senators met with President Donald Trump to discuss the health care bill on June 27.

Victims of rape and domestic abuse would suffer “devastating” effects if either the House or Senate proposals to revamp health care are passed, a large coalition of advocacy groups said as they demanded that lawmakers tear up their drafts and craft a better bill.

More than 300 national and local nonprofits signed a letter sent to the Senate leadership on Monday, heaping pressure on Republican lawmakers who were forced to delay a vote on the Senate proposal because of lack of support. The vote won’t take place until after the July 4 recess.

The letter, obtained by BuzzFeed News, calls the current Republican proposals in Congress to overhaul the Affordable Care Act "unacceptable" because they could lead to insurance company policies that "simply price people right out of care" — disproportionately affecting victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse.

"Domestic violence and sexual assault are unplanned crises with long-term consequences," the groups wrote. "It is unreasonable to assume someone will know to choose a health plan based on the expectation she or he will become a victim of crime or violence. The [Senate bill] will allow insurers to sell plans that cover very little — potentially leaving a victim with a huge medical bill after an attack — or make comprehensive health insurance so expensive that it’s unaffordable."

The Republican proposal to scale back Medicaid coverage would be detrimental to abuse victims, the groups say, since they "are more likely to be suffering from chronic pain and other chronic health conditions that require continuous screening and services. Many are also struggling with mental, emotional and behavioral health consequences of their abuse, and those services may now no longer be covered."

Republicans have called concerns over rape victims being denied coverage "hysteria," and said that such claims have been debunked.

When the bill went through the House, viral social media posts said it would deny rape victims coverage altogether based on their assaults, which is not true. And while the House allows billers to charge more for preexisting conditions, the Senate bill does not. But advocates say problems remain because a majority of states do not have laws protecting rape victims from being charged more by insurance companies as a result of their assault. And while rape would not be considered a preexisting condition, that may not be the case for some ailments resulting from assault and their corresponding treatments, like STIs and mental health issues.

"It'd be deeply disappointing to see Congress put policies in place that would directly harm so many survivors," said Liz Roberts, deputy CEO of Safe Horizon, one of the nation's largest victims assistance organizations, which also signed the letter.

The groups’ concerns around health care changes focus on key areas like coverage requirements for insurance plans, penalties for people who have gaps in coverage, and preexisting conditions. If the GOP proposals in those areas are enacted, rape and abuse victims will suffer, advocates insist.

“The [Senate bill] will allow insurers to sell plans that cover very little — potentially leaving a victim with a huge bill after an attack — or make comprehensive health insurance so expensive that it’s unaffordable,” the letter argues.

"To disregard the needs of their constituents is inhumane and cruel," said Grace Huang, policy director of the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, another national group that signed.

The letter also targets how the Senate bill would prohibit people from purchasing health insurance for six months if they go 63 days without it. According to the advocates, this would be harmful to domestic violence victims who leave an abusive partner who may have paid the bills, but now need time to get their health care needs sorted.

"We ask you not to turn your back on victims," the letter closes. "Protect their access to health care to make sure that they have a pathway to healing, safety and well-being."

UPDATE

This story has been updated to clarify the scheduling of the Senate vote and its treatment of preexisting conditions.

Tyler Kingkade is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York City.

Contact Tyler Kingkade at tyler.kingkade@buzzfeed.com.

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