Almost nine percent of people in the United States are of limited English proficiency. To understand and navigate their health insurance–and get the care they require–they need access to competent interpretation and translation. Access to such language services is a matter of civil rights and is currently under threat by new rules established by Health and Human Services. Upon learning the news last week, the Health Rights Organizing Project (HROP) sprung into action.
HROP is a national coalition, convened by NWFCO, of 37 community-based organizations in 24 states. HROP’s member organizations represent people who have long experienced barriers to health care, and are comprised of seasoned health justice organizers that have been involved with the fight for health care reform and who continue to work to ensure health equity for racial and economically disenfranchised communities.
Recently, HHS released regulations on language access and the new appeals process private health insurance companies must implement. The new rules let insurance companies off the hook for providing interpretation and translation in a number of circumstances. For example:
- Insurance companies can refuse to provide oral interpretation for an urgent health care decision within the 24-hour required time period
- Insurers don’t have to provide written translation for group plans if less than 10 percent (large plans) or 25 percent (small plans) of enrollees speak the same non-English language
- Insurers don’t have to provide written translation for individual plans if less than 10 percent of a county’s population speaks the same non-English language
HROP fears that these new interim regulations established by HHS might be used broadly to set standards for language access in all areas health care reform implementation. Members of HROP mobilized quickly to collect and submit public comment on the new regulations. HROP mobilized over 70 community organizations across the country to take immediate action.
To illustrate the problem, organizations had community members submit comments sharing their personal experiences with language barriers in the health system and asked HHS to create regulations that ensure that everyone eligible for insurance has a meaningful opportunity to enroll and use the benefits covered in the plan.
HROP wants HHS to require that insurers at least provide:
- Oral interpretation as needed by each enrollee
- Clear information about the availability of interpretation and translation at no cost
- Written translation whenever five percent of enrollees or 500 enrollees, whichever is lower, are literate in the same non-English language (Group Plans)
- Written translation whenever five percent of a county’s population is literate in the same non-English language (Individual Plans)
HROP groups will continue to put pressure on HHS to strengthen this regulation and ensure that people with limited English proficiency are afforded their civil rights and have access to interpretation and translation in our new health care system.