California Interpreters Push Back on Proposed New Fee Structure

Is USD 448 enough compensation for a full day’s work for a certified interpreter servicing a hearing and deposition in California? What about USD 225 for half a day’s work?

The California Division of Workers Compensation (DWC) wants to know so it is seeking public comment on the proposed interpreter fee schedule regulations it posted to its online forum on April 2, 2018.

The chief objective of the proposal is to create a uniform fee structure, which it said is based on the federal court system.

Interpreters’ compensation has become a thorny issue in California ever since amendments have been introduced in the Labor Code and other state laws over the past three years to curb the incidence of medical fraud.

In May 2017, a group of interpreters even took the DWC to court over the new system of compensation for interpreters. In June, the same group led the fight against allowing “provisionally certified” interpreters to work if certified legal and medical interpreters are not available, which the group claimed has led to the undercutting of fees.

In the case of medical treatment appointments the suggested rate of USD 86.50 per one hour minimum is out of touch with reality — Mina Thorlaksson, Administrative Hearing Certified Interpreter

The new regulations submitted for public comment appear to correct this loophole since the proposed professional fee for “certified” and “provisionally certified” were markedly different. The DWC said in its announcement that the higher rates proposed for “certified” interpreters are meant to encourage the use of certified interpreters.

‘Certified’ Vs ‘Provisionally Certified’

Under the proposed fee structure, an interpreter who renders a service in hearings and depositions would be paid USD 225 for a half day’s work and USD 448 for a full day’s work. However, a provisionally certified interpreter would only get half of the amount at USD 121 for a half day’s work and USD 234 for a full day’s work.

Meanwhile, there are specific rates for interpretation at a medical treatment appointment or a medical-legal evaluation, which is priced at USD 86.50 per hour for a certified interpreter, while provisionally certified interpreters would only get USD 57.75 per hour.   

The DWC said that the organizations approved to certify interpreters remain unchanged from the current regulations. A certified interpreter for hearings and depositions is defined as an individual listed on the State Personnel Board website or listed as a certified interpreter on California Courts website.

Please do not reduce or change the current interpreter fees charged as that would be a tremendous blow to our industry that is already having many changes in available work — Alexander Diamonds, Administrative Certified Interpreter

Meanwhile, a certified interpreter for medical treatment appointments and medical-legal evaluation must be listed in the above government websites and hold a valid Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) certification or a valid and current National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (National Board) certification if they are working in certain specified languages.

The regulation is also introducing a streamlined process for claiming payments, which includes detailed invoice information and billing codes. It also requires full documentation on the process of selection and arrangement of interpreters, especially if “alternative” interpreters were selected in the absence of a certified interpreter.

Early comments

A document made available online by the DWC shows that early comments to the proposed interpreter fee schedule centered around the amount, which, as one commenter observed, is only a “marginal improvement from the measly USD 52 per hour rate in 2015.”

The proposed regulations take the position that the interpreters for the more exotic and uncommon languages will be paid the same as the interpreters who translate from Spanish. This simply ignores the reality of the marketplace. It is already difficult to find interpreters in the more exotic languages. If you limit them to what the Spanish interpreters are paid, there will not be enough business to keep these interpreters in the field and they will pursue other endeavors. — Maurice Abarr, Esq.

The commenters also said that the proposal did not take into consideration the variety of rates, which differ based on the language being used for interpretation as well as the fact that language service providers (LSPs) usually charge insurers at “market rates” or “a higher rate” than individual interpreters.

I believe this to be an extremely unfair proposal and one that will drive away certified interpreters from this industry — Goli Khatibloo, Certified Persian Interpreter

Other concerns raised include questions on the pro rata rate for services rendered below one hour or beyond the full eight hours, the capping of billing fees for multiple appearances, and the absence of guidelines on overbooking.

The interpreter community may still submit comments on or before 5 p.m. on April 13.