An Idaho state fund that helps victims of violent crimes pay for medical, forensic, mental health, and other services could get more authority to set prices for medical services. The Crime Victims Compensation Program pays for such costs through federal grants and fees on every guilty misdemeanor and felony charge, but the fund has dwindled as health care costs have increased during the past few years. A proposal approved by the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee Monday would give the program more power to set prices for medical costs.
“This increase in expenditures has significantly impacted the victims' compensation fund,” said George Gutierrez, the bureau chief for the compensation program. He said the program has only been able to fund 75 percent of medical costs due to the rise in costs. That across-the-board reduction is currently the only option the crime victims fund has to reduce costs, but the new proposal would let the fund set costs based on a pricing scale used by the state workers’ compensation fund. Gutierrez said the workers' compensation scale is the fairest he could find.
“We need to protect the victims as much as we can as well as take care of the providers, but be conservative,” said Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls.
The legislation would also prevent health care providers that get money from the crime victims fund from charging the victims for any extra costs the state fund can’t cover. Gutierrez said an increasing number of providers are billing victims due to difficult economic times. “It’s happening across the state,” he said. “As things got tough and the economy turned down, many providers were looking to increase their revenue.”
The proposal now heads to the full Senate. The Idaho House of Representatives approved the measure March on a 68-1 vote. Every state offers compensation to assist innocent victims of crime for out-of-pocket costs resulting from a violent crime. Misdemeanor offenders in Idaho pay a $37 fine into the Crimes Victim Compensation Fund, felony offenders $50, and offenders convicted of sex crimes $300. No money for the fund comes from state tax dollars. Victims can receive a maximum of $25,000 from the fund, which can also cover counseling, lost wages, death benefits, and funeral costs. The text of the legislation is available here.