Language Barriers Could Lead to Lawsuits Against Insurers
A lawsuit recently filed against Blue Cross of California highlights "an issue that experts say could plague the health insurance industry in coming years as it increasingly reaches out" to non-English speakers: Insurers could face legal problems unless they provide policies in members' primary language, the Los Angeles Times reports.
In the case, Blue Cross retroactively canceled coverage for a Spanish-speaking man, saying he did not disclose a preexisting medical condition in his application. The man and his wife claim that they properly disclosed all medical information to a Blue Cross worker in Spanish but said that they could not verify the information on the application because the company completed it in English.
According to Gerald Kominski, a professor at the University of California-Los Angeles School of Public Health, the case "could have a very dramatic impact in terms of elevating awareness on the part of (health) plans to make sure that they are communicating in the appropriate language with all their members and not just assuming contracts in English are going to be understood."
The Department of Managed Health Care is expected to finalize rules this year that will require insurers to provide written materials in members' primary language and provide interpretation services at hospitals and doctors' offices (Girion, Los Angeles Times, 3/20).