AB 2325 promises to increase the number of certified medical interpreters in California to help people with limited English language skills when they seek medical attention. In California, there are about seven million residents that speak languages other than English. Most of them are immigrants and refugees. This fact is never more glaring than when it comes to seeking medical attention. There are several cases where doctors were not able to understand their patients and patients that were unable to tell the doctor what is wrong with them. It is frustrating and can lead to dire consequences.
Introduction of AB 2325
John Perez, California State Assembly Speaker, introduced AB 2325 on February 21, 2014. The bill proposes to increase the number of medical interpreters in California to help residents whose English language skills are limited. Part of the bill requires the Department of Health Care Services to establish a program to provide and reimburse the services of medical interpreters for residents that are enrolled in MediCal, the health care program in the state of California. Seventy-five percent of the services’ funding will come from a federal matching program, according to the Speaker.
AB 2325 will establish CommuniCal, which will create a core group of medical translators that will be available to patients and their families during emergencies and routine medical care. Martha Villanueva, a health promoter, stated it simply. An interpreter is vital for people who do not speak English. Ms. Villanueva also emphatically said that it should not only be for Spanish but for all languages spoken in the state’s medical system.
Components of AB 2325
The bill will require the health department to create the Medi-Cal Patient-Centered Communication (CommuniCal) program, which will be administered by a third party. This is projected to start on July 1, 2015. It will likewise establish the CommuniCal Program Fund in the State Treasury that comprises the funds solely dedicated for the CommuniCal program.
According to the bill, the health department will be the certifying body for the certified medical interpreters of CommuniCal. The department can also authorize other interpreters that meet the specified requirements and pass a screening test to provide interpreting services to the program.
The health department must also develop, monitor and evaluate the competence, certification, training, continuing education, and qualifications of interpreters. It is also tasked to approve an examination and certification process for medical interpreters by September 1, 2015 and maintain a registry of interpreters that meet the requirements.
A Community Advisory Committee will likewise be established to assist the health department, adopt quality standards and through regulations, come up with the requirements for medical interpretation certification. The department must also come up with reasonable fees to charge applicants who wish to take the examinations that will be administered by the department so they can be certified and listed in the CommuniCal registry.
This is a great boon for medical interpreters, at least in California initially, a state where about 40% of the residents speaks a foreign language and where about 60 foreign languages and dialects are used. In Oakland for example, local members from the immigrant communities are often called to act as informal interpreters for people who have difficulty with the English language, to at least prevent other medical issues from erupting due to miscommunication.
There are more than two million additional residents in California that had gained health coverage and most of them speak foreign languages. There is shortage of medical interpreters because, at the moment, they are not given reimbursements via Medi-Cal. The CommuniCal program is projected to create 7,000 medical interpreter jobs within 10 years through the $270 million fund available from the Affordable Care Act.