Saturday, January 10, 2009

California Enacts Interpreter Law for Patients

On January 1st, California became the first U.S. state to enact legislation requiring that all nonpublic managed care health plans cover costs for providing interpreter services to state residents with limited English proficiency (LEP), the Sacramento Bee reports. The law requires health, dental and specialty insurers to provide translators for all languages, either by phone or in person, for subscribers when visiting a physician, pharmacist, ophthalmologist or dentist. Written translation also will be required for select languages.

The article notes that insurers expect to spend a collective $25 million to comply with the new law. However, patients' rights advocates praised the law, saying it will help reduce care quality disparities stemming from miscommunication. California plans to launch a publicity drive in the coming weeks to raise awareness of the new law. Meanwhile, noting that the new law stipulates only that interpreters demonstrate proficiency in interpretation, the California Healthcare Interpreting Association is recommending a certification program to ensure that the interpreters used by health plans are familiar with medical language and how to accurately translate medical terms.

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