COVID-19 has exposed a long-standing issue within the U.S. healthcare system: lack of access to language services for people with limited English proficiency (LEP). As hospitals struggled to manage rising caseloads, LEP patients risked missing out on life saving care due to language barriers. Yet the shortage of medical interpreters and translators began well before the pandemic.

 

According to a 2016 survey by the American Hospital Association, only 56% of hospitals offered linguistic and translation services—up from 54% in 2011. To put this into perspective, a 2010 study found that 97% of doctors have non-English speaking patients. That gap between patients’ needs and the availability of language services can prevent them from receiving appropriate treatments or even seeking care at all.

 

Federal Funding and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act

 

However, the need for medical interpreters and translators is well known among healthcare professionals. Organizations that receive financial assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must provide access to language services under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Recipients of this assistance include:

 

  • Healthcare providers that participate in CHIP and Medicaid programs
  • Hospitals and nursing homes (recipients under Medicare Part A)
  • Medicare Advantage plans (e.g. HMOs and PPOs)
  • Human or social service agencies
  • Insurers that participate in Marketplaces and receive premium tax credits

 

So, why do so many healthcare organizations fall short? The answer lies in insurance reimbursement.

 

Interpreting Services and Healthcare Reimbursement

 

Despite federal assistance, few insurers directly reimburse for interpreter services. Aside from some Medicaid plans, healthcare providers typically pay the costs—ranging from $30 to $400 per patient. Meanwhile, Medicaid programs pay only $30 to $50 per patient, which means providers often lose money by treating LEP patients. Unsurprisingly, 25% of clinicians considered interpreting costs a barrier to care. And as revenue falls due to COVID-19, more providers may consider cutting interpretation services as a cost-saving measure.

 

Telehealth and More Affordable Interpreting

 

Fortunately, the news isn’t all bad. Due to the pandemic, the HHS has expanded access to telehealth to keep patients and healthcare professionals safe. Using a platform like BoostCare Telehealth, healthcare providers can connect with remote medical interpreters who charge lower rates than onsite interpreters.

 

Our video remote and over-the-phone (OTP) interpreting options give you access to interpreters who speak over 200 languages within minutes—without the travel expenses. You can easily treat patients via telehealth or onsite without waiting for an interpreter to arrive. All you need is internet access and a mobile device or computer with a webcam.

 

Think BoostCare Telehealth may be right for your practice? Contact us today to start your free trial!

 

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