German Medical Association Urgently Demands Cost Coverage for Language Mediation

German Medical Association Urgently Demands Cost Coverage for Language Mediation

During its 128th congress, held in Mainz from May 7-10, 2024, The German Medical Association passed two resolutions (in German) calling on legislators to introduce national regulations related to coverage for the costs of spoken language interpreting and language and cultural mediation in healthcare for non-German speakers. The news was first reported by the German language industry news site Uepo.

Document No. Ic-81 of the Medical Association stipulates that its Executive Board “advocates strongly for legislators to assume the costs of language and cultural mediators in the healthcare system.” The healthcare providers are also calling for the expansion of the German social security legal code to make this possible as new regulations.

There is precedent for the association’s demand. Back in 2021, the association had already called for the provision of what it calls “language mediators” to be mandatory and for the central government to cover the cost. In November 2023, the Federal Working Group of Independent Welfare Organizations (BAGFW) and the Federal Conference of Migrant Organizations (BKMO) again called on the central government to approve legislation to cover these costs.

The physicians argue in their latest statements that they treat patients every day whose native language is not German, often communicating with them through family members or other medical providers and even service personnel. They consider this way of dealing with non-German speaking patients “unprofessional language mediation” that “makes diagnosis or appropriate treatment more difficult.”

Free, Nation-Wide Phone Interpreting

During the meeting, the Medical Association also voted on and made a separate statement regarding the free provision of language mediation and interpreting services in hospitals and medical offices via a national phone interpreting service.

In their statement, the physicians asked for the multilingual phone language mediation and interpreting service to be available not just for medical matters but also for mental health. As an alternative, they suggest that funds be provided for the procurement of IT solutions that are suitable for language access within the constraints of data protection laws.

Furthermore, the association demands reimbursements for the additional time and extra expenses incurred by hospitals, medical offices, and emergency services personnel when caring for non-German-speaking patients.

As a rationale for their demands, the physicians argued that Germany is increasingly becoming a country of immigrants, with multinational refugee flows reflected in a steady increase of patients who don’t speak German (or English) in healthcare facilities.

The statement also calls for language services to be supplemented by “improved integration of immigrants in the short term, nationwide, and across all disciplines.”