Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Filed by ProEnglish Over HHS Guidelines on Translation Services for Patients
U.S. District Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit challenging HHS guidelines under which health care providers could lose federal funds for failure to provide translation services for patients who do not speak English, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/9). The lawsuit -- filed last August in San Diego by ProEnglish, a Virginia-based not-for-profit group that supports English as the official U.S. language; Clifford Colwell, a San Diego orthopedic surgeon; and the Pacific Legal Foundation -- alleges that the guidelines represent an "illegal intrusion" into the practices of providers and could "further motivate doctors to restrict their services or leave the industry." According to an executive order that former President Clinton signed in 2000, federally funded programs offered in English that are inaccessible to non-English speakers are "discriminatory." HHS in 2004 issued guidelines for compliance with the order that advised providers to offer patients no-cost translation services, such as written materials, phone conferences, bilingual medical staff and trained interpreters. The guidelines also say patients can use family members or volunteers as interpreters, but providers should offer patients the use of a professional interpreter (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 8/31/04).
Moskowitz dismissed the lawsuit, which he said was premature because none of the providers involved in the case could prove that they faced an imminent loss of federal funds or other action by the federal government. In addition, he said that the HHS guidelines allow providers to decide whether transplant services are necessary for patients based on their resources and that none of the providers involved in the case could prove that they were forced to hire professional interpreters. PLF attorneys said that they plan to appeal the decision. Providers "face civil rights charges if they don't provide translator services, and they face significant financial hardship if they do comply," PLF attorney Sharon Browne said (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/9).