Non-English Speakers Face Health Setback If Trump Loosens Language Rules

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By Carmen Heredia Rodriguez JUNE 24, 2019

A federal regulation demands that certain health care organizations provide patients who have limited English skills a written notice of free translation services.

But the Trump administration wants to ease those regulations and also no longer require that directions be given to patients on how they can report discrimination they experience.

The changes could save $3.16 billion over five years for the health care industry, according to the administration.

These changes are part of a broader proposed regulation that would roll back protections banning discrimination based on gender identity. The public comment period closes Aug. 13.

The proposal would not change the government’s requirements that insurers and medical facilities provide foreign language translators and interpreters for non-English speakers.

The government acknowledged in the proposal that the change would lead to fewer people with limited English skills accessing health care and fewer reports of discrimination. But it also questioned the need for these notices, pointing out that in some areas health organizations spend money to accommodate a small contingent of language speakers. For example, notices in Wyoming must account for the 40 Gujarati speakers — a language of India — in the state.

In all, the government said, the impact of doing away with these requirements would be “negligible.”

Others disagree.

“I haven’t seen any reason to believe that this will only have a negligible impact,” said Mara Youdelman, managing attorney for the Washington, D.C., office of the National Health Law Program, a civil rights advocacy group. She said it “will likely result in people just not knowing their rights but not accessing care to which they’re eligible.”

Regulations under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act require insurers, hospitals and others to include a “tagline” of free translation services for the 15 languages that are most prevalent in a state. Additionally, it requires a nondiscrimination clause and directions on how to file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.

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Carmen Heredia Rodriquez is a web reporter at Kaiser Health News. 

Email:  CarmenH@kff.org  Twitter:  @ByCHRodriguez

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