Dr. Flores agrees. “Under Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), states may pay for interpreting services and receive federal matching funds of 50% or more,” he says. “Yet only 13 states are taking advantage of this. The other 37 states are missing out on this money.”
Like many of his colleagues, Dr. Flores is also mystified about the government’s reluctance to fully fund interpretation services, pointing out that “a federal report from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 2002 estimated that it would cost an average of $4.04 per physician visit to provide all LEP patients with full language access services.”
Then why hasn’t this been allocated? Dr. Flores acknowledges that there is some recognition and awareness of the situation in Congress, and he thinks there may be some political will as well. He has testified before the Senate about the Hispanic Health Improvement Act, yet the bill has yet to pass. At the moment, there are immigration issues that are impeding political action in these areas.
In the meantime, Dr. Flores suggests that there are other steps that healthcare organizations can take to ease language access problems:
- Recruit bilingual providers in areas with large ethnic populations and offer hiring bonuses for qualified individuals;
- Encourage medical schools to require—and even teach—proficiency in languages other than English. “We should require, as other countries do, that children learn foreign languages,” he says; and
- Do a better job of helping LEP individuals learn English.
Begin the last step by directing LEP patients to the Web site of the National Institute for Literacy and Partners, which matches applicants to literacy and ESL programs within their geographical area.1
“We must debunk the oft-repeated story that professional medical interpreters are too expensive to use, that they charge $400 an hour,” says Roat. “That figure came from an incident in which an interpreter was supposedly working in a very remote area on a weekend and charged for the time, distance, and unusual circumstances. In reality, qualified medical interpreters earn $20 to $25 per hour and are worth every penny. Plus, they save money by reducing time and costs to the institution.” TH
Ann Kepler is based in the Chicago area.
- National Institute for Literacy, Literacy Directory. Available at: www.literacydirectory.org. Last accessed September 27,2006.