Language Difficulties Impede Quality HMO Care, Study Says
Language and communication difficulties are a barrier to receiving quality health care through an HMO both for English and non-English speakers, according to a study released last week by the Office of the Patient Advocate, the Stockton Record reports. The study, conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy, found that 30% to 45% of HMO members have high school-level reading skills. However, 92% of the consumer information material published by HMOs is written at a college level or higher, according to Ed Mendoza, acting director of the OPA. The study also found that 33% of HMO enrollees speak a language other than English and that 20% speak no English at all. "If it's incomprehensible in English, then translating it to another language won't be productive," Mendoza said. He said that HMOs affiliated with Medi-Cal and Healthy Families produce materials that are written at a much lower reading level and make translation and interpretation services available.
The Legislature is considering a bill (SB 853) that would require the Department of Managed Health Care to establish linguistic access standards. While HMOs contend that they do not need to be regulated, many patient advocates argue that large HMOs are not doing enough to increase linguistic understanding and accessibility, the Record reports. "To have effective programs, they need to be culturally and linguistically appropriate," Ellen Wu, executive director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, said, adding, "We need better training for translators to assure competence. And we need better-translated materials. Right now there's just not enough of that" (Guillermo, Stockton Record, 6/2).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.