The health care bill that passed in the House earlier this month has the potential to negatively impact large numbers of Connecticut residents, chief among them, domestic violence victims and their families.

Under the American Health Care Act (AHCA), buying insurance will become too expensive for some middle- and low-income victims. Abusers will use that expense, and the continuous coverage requirement, as a means to control their partner. This isn’t hyperbole; maintaining health insurance is a very real barrier for someone trying to leave a relationship. The AHCA does even more harm though, it has the potential to cut off a vital lifeline for victims by making domestic violence a pre-existing condition.

In Connecticut, we average 14 intimate partner homicides each year, a number that has not diminished over the past decade. In response, the Connecticut Domestic Violence Fatality Review Committee conducts multi-disciplinary, systemic examinations of intimate partner fatalities to determine what we can do differently to prevent future homicides. In the most recent report released by the Committee, it was determined that in the majority of homicides the victim had not sought out domestic violence services.

Victims don’t seek services for a myriad of reasons, including that they may not identify as a victim of abuse, they may be terrified and controlled by their abuser, or they don’t realize that there are free and confidential services available to them. That is why a healthcare provider can play such an important role for a victim of domestic violence.

Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) travels the state training healthcare providers on how to effectively screen patients for intimate partner violence and what to say and do if a patient should disclose. Research shows that women who talk to their health care provider about abuse are more likely to seek intervention and leave a relationship. Most individuals value the opinions and advice of their healthcare provider, so when abuse is brought up in the context of a patient’s health, it holds a lot of weight.

We also know that many victims won’t seek out domestic violence services for the aforementioned reasons, and so not screening patients for intimate partner violence is a potentially fatal missed opportunity. Across the state of Connecticut, thousands of healthcare providers have been trained by CCADV. The feedback from OBGYNs, nurses, pediatricians, medical students, and Planned Parenthood has been fantastic. Many healthcare providers share that they feel more comfortable asking their patients about abuse, safely documenting that information in the patient’s record, and confident that if their patient should disclose they know how to respond and where to refer them.

Unfortunately, if the AHCA as written is passed in the Senate, this important intervention that connects victims of domestic violence to the services they need might end. If the AHCA is enacted, healthcare providers may choose not to screen or victims may choose not to disclose, because to do so would be to label them with a pre-existing condition and put them at risk for higher premiums.

One out of every four American women have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime. We desperately need more ways for victims to access domestic violence services, not more barriers. CCADV urges Connecticut residents to call on U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal to oppose the AHCA and to have their colleagues in the Senate do the same.

Jillian Gilchrest is the Director of Health Professional Outreach at Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the state’s leading voice for victims of domestic violence and those organizations that serve them. If you or someone you know needs help, please call (888) 774-2900 to speak with a counselor.

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