HMO Interpreter Law Could Reduce Costs
Advocates of a law (SB 853) that requires insurance companies to provide translation services for members say it would provide better care for immigrant populations and reduce medical costs over time, but critics maintain the law is costly and might not work, the San Jose Mercury News reports (Goldston, San Jose Mercury News, 3/30).
The law also requires insurers to provide written letters and eligibility notices in languages that members can understand. Under proposed rules drafted by the Department of Managed Healthcare, insurers must have language assistance programs set up by July 1, 2007, and provide the written materials by Oct. 1, 2007.
The law does not require such services for uninsured patients or Medi-Cal beneficiaries, but a 1990 law already requires hospitals to provide language services (California Healthline, 3/23).
Gail Tang -- director of national linguistic and cultural programs at Kaiser Permanente and the developer of the curriculum for the Health Care Interpretation Certification Program that now is being taught nationwide -- said "[h]ealth care will cost more" without translation services because patients could be misdiagnosed or avoid treatment because of language barriers.
Many limited-English speaking families use their relatives as interpreters, but a bill (AB 775) by Assembly member Leland Yee (D- San Francisco) would bar children younger than 16 years old from interpreting.
Some doctors complain that Medi-Cal does not provide funding for language services, which they say increase medical costs for all consumers. The California Medical Association last month received a $167,000 grant to study doctors' views and attitudes on access to language assistance in health care (San Jose Mercury News, 3/30).