Groups Support Medical Interpretation Services
A working group representing 70 organizations concerned with language barriers in health care is drafting legislation that would provide for Medicare to facilitate improved doctor-patient communication, New America Media reports. Medicare currently does not pay for medical interpretation services, although federal law requires entities that receive federal funds to provide interpretation services to patients at no cost.
The California Endowment funded a report, titled "Paying for Language Services in Medicare: Preliminary Options and Recommendations," to initiate consideration of Medicare coverage for medical interpretation services. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities produced the report with oversight by the National Health Law Program.
The report found that 46% of seniors with limited English proficiency are U.S. citizens. About half speak Spanish, New America Media reports.
According to the report, 3% of hospitals are reimbursed for the cost of providing language services, with most reimbursement coming from state Medicaid programs. New America Media reports that insurers "rarely pay" for interpretation services and that the federal government has approved applications from 13 states to provide federal matching funds of at least 50% for medical interpretation services under Medicaid or SCHIP, state-federal programs that provide health insurance for low-income children.
Jill Gerber -- spokesperson for Senate Finance Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) -- said, "We do not know for certain if medical interpreting would improve health outcomes for seniors." She added that lawmakers would "need to make fairly certain these changes will result in improved health outcomes" before modifying Medicare coverage policies.
Mara Yudelman, an attorney with the National Health Law Program who co-directed the project, said research has documented improved outcomes when medical interpretation services are available, adding that the availability of such services could:
- Reduce medical errors;
- Improve compliance with treatment orders;
- Avoid complications; and
- Reduce unnecessary tests and emergency department visits (Abramson, New America Media, 11/6).