Medical Interpreters

Communications between patients and their doctors need to be very clear. Their impact is too important. But that isn’t happening for a significant sector of the immigrant community that doesn’t speak English well enough to accurately understand their diagnoses and treatments.

The ideal situation would be for everyone to become fluent in English, which is an indispensable skill in this society in order to get ahead. In the meantime, however, it is a common sight to see parents taking their children with them to the doctor to act as their interpreters. That’s bad for the child and bad for the patient.

This is why Assembly Bill AB1263 needs to pass. AB1263 basically requires the California Department of Health Care Services to establish a program that would provide and pay interpreters for Medi-Cal beneficiaries. It establishes a certification and registration process for interpreters specializing in medical interpreting.

The bill’s critics argue that there are insufficient funds to pay medical interpreters. Yet, by law, most of the money would come from federal funds under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

California has such a diverse immigrant community that more than 100 languages are spoken here. Presently, more than 40% of Californians speak a language other than English at home, and some seven million have limited English proficiency. That rich fabric, which makes the State so special, also poses a challenge for healthcare services.

The fate of AB1263 now lies in the hands of Governor Jerry Brown, who has a few days left to sign it. Otherwise, the bill will die. We hope he enacts it as soon as possible. Indeed, for a modest sum, we could save lives, while bringing millions of federal dollars to California by simply creating these jobs for interpreters.