Left in the Dark

Today, members of the Health Rights Organizing Project called on the federal government to prevent health insurance companies from denying health care to people who speak limited English. Under the new health reform law, patients have the right to appeal insurance companies’ health care denials. Insurers are supposed to inform patients of these rights, including patients not fluent in English.

However, a recently approved policy of the federal Department of Health and Human Services would let insurance companies skirt this requirement. According to “Left in the Dark,” a new report from the Alliance for a Just Society, insurance companies would be allowed to issue English-only materials in 92 percent of counties.

Under the proposal, millions of people will be shut out of health reform’s patient protections. For example, Chinese-language speakers in San Francisco County would receive translated appeal rights information, but the 40,000 Spanish speakers in the same county would not. By contrast, Spanish speakers in Los Angeles County would receive translation, but 490,000 Asian and Pacific Islander language speakers there would not. These anomalies are repeated in counties across the country.

Members of Health Rights Organizing Project are calling for the federal government to change its rule, guaranteeing:

  • Written translation whenever 5 percent of county residents or 500 county residents, whichever is lower, are literate in the same non-English language;
  • Oral interpretation as needed by each enrollee; and,
  • Clear information about the availability of interpretation and translation at no cost.
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