Medicare should consider providing coverage for medical interpretation services because eliminating language barriers in health care could help reduce medical errors, according to a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The report outlines strategies that Medicare could take to pay for language services. According to the author, about two million Medicare beneficiaries have limited English proficiency, but Medicare does not cover the cost of language assistance services.
The report highlights five steps that the federal government should take to provide Medicare coverage for language services. The steps are:
- Establishing a flexible system of payment for language services in hospitals;
- Increasing recruitment and training of bilingual and multilingual interpreters and clinicians by providing grants to hospitals, medical schools and community groups;
- Providing Medicare reimbursements directly to in-person interpreters and developing a federal contract system for telephone interpreters;
- Improving management and oversight of language services in Medicare managed care plans; and
- Exempting language service expenses from Medicare cost-sharing requirements.