NASW was among a coalition of organizations represented at a March 17 meeting to discuss federal priorities for improving access to health care for individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP).
Ahead of the meeting with Howard Koh, assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, and Amy Hall, director of the Office of Legislation at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the coalition provided Koh and Hall a list of actions the administration and Congress should take.
The list included translating all Medicare and Medicaid beneficiary-related notices and information into the 15 most commonly spoken non-English languages and establishing Medicare payments for language services. The latter, said Rita Webb, a senior practice associate who attended the meeting on NASW’s behalf, is especially important because language interpretation services in health care settings are costly, but often uncompensated.
The actions derive from the coalition’s statement of principles, which proclaims: “Language services in health care settings must be available as a matter of course, and all stakeholders — including government agencies that fund, administer or oversee health care programs — must be accountable for providing or facilitating the provision of those services.”
Webb said Koh and Hall were receptive to the coalition’s concerns and promised a thorough review of the priorities list. “They share the view that LEP is a major contributor to health disparities,” Webb said.
Webb said social workers would also like CMS to update its LEP plan and issue a language services plan for its federally conducted activities, as well as create a terminology database in multiple languages for Medicare and Medicaid terms that can be used by states, providers and others when translating materials, to ensure consistency and reduce costs of translations.
Webb also called on the administration to amend regulations regarding the Children’s Health Insurance Program to require states to collect data on the language in which enrollees and their parents or guardians prefer to receive information.
“It’s an odd omission from the regulations, considering that providers typically communicate information to the parents or guardians of a child patient,” she pointed out.
NASW has had a policy statement and standards concerning cultural competency and language access in place for some time now. “NASW embraces the view that language access to services is a right,” says NASW’s policy statement in Social Work Speaks (8th Ed.).
At NASW News deadline, a practice update concerning language access services was forthcoming. The update details recent developments at the federal level to support services for LEP individuals.
In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act, which included increased funding to states for interpretation and translation services in health care settings. In addition, the recently passed health care reforms address language access.
The update also contains a discussion of the demographic shift taking place in the U.S. As of 2008, there were 55 million people in the nation who spoke a language other than English at home, and that number will increase as minorities become a greater proportion of the population — 54 percent by 2050.