Good for Business: How US Healthcare Reform Is Driving Translation Demand

In Illinois in the US, a new Managed Care Translation / Interpretation Services law is coming into effect by January 1, 2016, one of 237 laws taking effect come the new year. This new law requires that managed care entities have written language access policies ensuring language-appropriate services to patients with Limited English Proficiency (LEP). It requires translation of all vital documents and forms, qualified interpretation services, language access policy training for staff, data tracking, and that LEP patients are notified how to gain access to the services.

Aside from Illinois’ Managed Care Translation / Interpretation Services law, Slator also previously covered a new medical translation law in California. It requires pharmacies in the state to provide translations of medical labels and prescription instructions into five languages other than English, if requested. These state laws are driving local demand for medical translation. In addition, the nationwide Affordable Care Act (ACA) also mandates specific translation and interpretation regulations for LEP patients.

Enacted in 2010 as a signature bill of the Obama administration, the ACA put into motion comprehensive health care reforms including language access for LEP patients. After all, there are at least 350 spoken languages in the US. In New York, for instance, over a third of the population speak a language other than English at home, and there are close to 200 different languages spoken.

Considering the diversity of spoken language in the US, the ACA dedicates several sections relating to language access that healthcare providers must follow. Under the ACA, if 10% or more of a county’s population speak the same non-English language, then healthcare institutions providing care for LEP patients must provide translation and interpretation services. This threshold is used in 23 states and 255 counties in the US.

The ACA extends previous federal mandates in explicitly requiring translation and interpretation for healthcare. These regulations are found in several sections of its text, specifically 1557, 1331, and 1001.

ACA Section 1557 is the Non-Discrimination Requirement: any healthcare program or activity that receives, even in part, federal funding must protect LEP patients from discrimination of services based on language.
ACA Section 1331 is the Plain Language Requirement, stating that patient communication must be done in “plain language” that “the intended audience, including individuals with limited English proficiency, can readily understand and use because that language is concise, well-organized, and follows other best practices of plain language writing.”
Finally, ACA Section 1001, the Culturally And Linguistically Appropriate Requirement, mandates that healthcare providers use linguistically and culturally appropriate communication when dealing with health insurance enrollees.

In conjunction with other and previous federal laws, the ACA’s regulations will continue to drive more demand for medical translation. States like Illinois and California are following suit with state-level language access laws. It seems US healthcare reform presents an increasingly demand-rich market for language service providers active in the space.