California Aims To Increase Awareness of New Health Interpreter Law
Officials in California are seeking to increase awareness of the state's new law requiring health insurers to provide interpreters to non-English-speaking members, the Ventura County Star reports. According to the Star, the California Department of Managed Health Care has received only five calls from consumers inquiring about the law, which took effect Jan. 1.
The law covers all individuals with private insurance or coverage through Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program. Hospitals are already required to provide interpreters. The new law allows patients whose primary language is not English to request that their health insurer provide an interpreter when they make medical appointments. The interpreter does not have to be physically present with the patient and can be provided through online or video conferencing services.
The law also requires important medical documents to be translated and for interpreters to meet competency requirements. At some hospitals, staff members who had previously served as interpreters for patients are now undergoing testing to determine if they meet the new law's requirements, and some are not passing in large part because of grammar issues, according to the Star.
DMHC Director Cindy Ehnes said the state will continue to publicize the rules through foreign language media, notices from insurers and other strategies. Responding to the low number of inquiries from consumers, Ehnes said, "We think it's not a reflection of things just going smoothly. We think it's a reflection that people don't know about the right."
Ehnes said the state will use undercover representatives to verify compliance with the rules and will pursue reported complaints.
Susan Haverland, who leads an advocacy group for indigenous Mexicans in Ventura County who speak Mixtecan, said sometimes hospitals do not provide adequate interpretation services, relying on family members to interpret or providing an interpreter who does not speak the same dialect as the patient. She added, "All I can say is I hope" the new law will bring better care for non-English-speaking patients (Kisken, Ventura County Star, 1/26).