News: 2009 Press Release
For Release: April 1, 2009
Media Calls Only: 916-492-3566
Insurance Commissioner Poizner Announces Increased Language Accessibility to Health Insurance for California Consumers
State law guarantees interpreters for health care services
Insurance Commissioner Poizner announced today that regulations take effect today, April 1, which will make health insurance more accessible to all California consumers, regardless of their primary language.
Following the passage of SB 853 in 2003, and the subsequent issuance of regulations, California is now the first state in the nation to require that medical services are provided to customers in the preferred spoken language of limited English-speaking patients. Interpreters will be available at each point of service for insured Californians including doctor's office visits, laboratory visits and clinical visits. Under certain conditions, important insurance company documents will also be translated into several languages. This groundbreaking change will fundamentally improve the way limited-English speaking Californians communicate with their doctors, health care professionals and insurance companies.
"It is crucial that patients and their doctors can clearly communicate complex health concerns, medical instructions and insurance coverage details," said Commissioner Poizner. "These new regulations help to break down language barriers that previously stood in the way of efficient and accessible health care. I am pleased that through these regulations, Californians, no matter what their primary language is, will be able to communicate more clearly with their doctors and receive better health care treatment."
Under the regulations that go into effect today, a Notice of the Availability of Language Assistance will be sent to each insured at least once a year and will be translated into the 12 most common languages in California.
According to census data, 43 percent of Californians speak a language other than English at home, a proportion far higher than in any other state in the country. With close to 3 million health insurance consumers in California, many consumers will benefit from being able to communicate complicated health issues with their doctors and health insurance companies in the language that they understand most clearly.
Since SB 853 was passed, which required the development of regulations to increase language accessibility for health insurance customers in California, the Department of Insurance began an extensive public process to develop the regulations and determine the best way for health insurers to comply with the new law. Stakeholders from the insurance industry, health care consumer advocacy organizations, consumers and other interested parties met frequently to develop details and pursue regulations.
Nearly 100 health insurance companies were required to develop a Language Assistance Program Plan. This plan included surveying the language preferences of their customers, determining the threshold languages into which important insurance company documents would have to be translated, how interpreter services would be provided when consumers contacted their insurance company, how health care providers would be notified about the requirement to provide an interpreter to health insurance consumers if requested, what staff training was required and how the insurance company would monitor the provision of interpreters to their clientele by health care providers.
"Today marks the final phase of the implementation of this groundbreaking law, which is a first-in-the-nation model for improving care to an increasingly diverse population," explained Marty Martinez, policy director for the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, the organization that sponsored the legislation. "Now all Californians with private health coverage will receive care in the language they speak and can understand."
"This has been an unprecedented team effort on the part of health insurers and consumer advocates, who have worked tirelessly over several years to improve access to health care for California consumers," said Commissioner Poizner. "The commitment and dedication of all parties involved has been exemplary."
If any consumer experiences difficulty in obtaining an interpreter through their health insurance company, they can file a complaint by calling the CDI Consumer Hotline: 800-927-HELP.
Please visit the Department of Insurance Web site at www.insurance.ca.gov. Non media inquiries should be directed to the Consumer Hotline at 800.927.HELP. Callers from out of state, please dial 213.897.8921. Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDD), please dial 800.482.4833.
If you are a member of the public wishing information, please visit our Consumer Services.