Mission Community Hospital Lawsuit Sheds Light on Interpreter Law
Officials at Panorama City-based Mission Community Hospital say that a settlement reached in a lawsuit over a Spanish-speaking house painter who signed papers he did not fully understand that made him liable for his father's medical bills could benefit other families of patients at the facility, the Los Angeles Times reports. Filed in 1999 by the Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County and the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the suit charged that Pedro Perez could not understand the English-language documents he signed, making him liable for his father's $13,000 medical bill. Perez later discovered that his father had been eligible for state-funded insurance. Shortly after the suit was filed, Mission Community agreed to waive the bill as part of a larger settlement.
Under the settlement, the hospital agreed not to collect from patients who had signed third-party liability agreements in situations similar to Perez's. Mission Community agreed to other changes, including posting signs in English and Spanish alerting patients to the availability of interpreters to discuss patient care and billing issues; posting signs in both languages about public health insurance programs and enrollment requirements; and improving written third-party liability agreements that include a description of services that will be provided regardless of a patient's ability to pay. The new changes help clarify that family members are "not obliged to sign for financial coverage of another family member," according to Mission Community CEO Bill Daniel. Jane Perkins, director of legal affairs for the National Health Law Program, said that while many hospitals that receive federal funding are failing to provide interpreters as required under civil rights law, the Mission Community case is "evidence that awareness of the law is growing" (Kondo, Los Angeles Times, 5/2).
Meanwhile, HHS will review guidelines issued last summer explaining how providers who receive federal health care funds can fulfill their legal requirement to ensure "equal access to federal services" for non-English speakers because doctors say the policy forces them "to hire costly translators." The AP/Arizona Daily Star reports that advocates for immigrants say the guidelines, stemming from "long-standing" civil rights law, are "not onerous" and are needed to ensure "health care and other services" are available. While the White House says there are no plans to repeal the guidelines, a bill introduced by Rep. Bob Stump (R-Ariz.) would revoke them (AP/Arizona Daily Star, 5/3). According to HHS documents, the policy guidance issued last summer did not "impose any new requirements" on providers but was only intended to "clarify" how providers can ensure compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (HHS Office of Civil Rights Memo, 8/29/00).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.