Oregon Senate Declines to Vote on Controversial Healthcare Interpreting Bill SB 584

In a rapid about-face, Oregon’s State Senate has decided not to vote on Oregon Senate Bill 584 (OR SB584), a healthcare interpreting bill that had the potential to disrupt language services for patients with limited English proficiency (LEP).

The state’s Senate Health Care Committee’s latest work session was on April 3, 2023, but an actual vote on the bill remained unscheduled.

Senator Kayse Jama (D) introduced the bill, “Relating to healthcare interpreters,” in January 2023. SB584 would have required the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to create a web-based platform healthcare providers could use to contact, schedule, and pay interpreters.

The Senate’s decision follows the American Translator Association’s critical February 2023 letter about the bill and, more recently, advocacy efforts by an Oregon Task Force led by Kristin Quinlan of Certified Languages and David Brackett at Linguava, with guidance from a hired lobbyist.

Coalition members from several other language service providers (LSPs), including LanguageLine, Boostlingo, and AMN, also participated. The group also hired an Oregon lobbyist for guidance. 

According to an April 18, 2023 newsletter sent out by the Association of Language Companies (ALC), “The Oregon Task Force mobilized hundreds of comments in opposition to the bill, multiple testimonies at the Oregon Senate Health Committee hearings, and in-person advocacy in Salem against the bill.”

Cynthia Roat, a Washington-based consultant on language access in healthcare, was one professional to share testimony related to the bill. 

Some of her remarks addressed a possible requirement by SB584 that LSPs outside Oregon register all their interpreters with the Oregon Health Authority, regardless of whether or not the OHA would pay for their service — a demand Roat described as “not reasonable.” 

A 2021 bill, HB 2359, currently requires healthcare providers to seek OHA-registered interpreters before seeking assistance from an LSP. 

Since, as the ATA pointed out in its letter, the state’s registry includes interpreters for fewer than 40 languages — far fewer than the 150 requested by patients in 2021 — LSPs often fill in the gaps.

“These lists of contractors are confidential to each business, and LSPs are unlikely to be willing to share them, nor will individual interpreters residing in other states, providing services nationally, be interested in applying to be listed on Oregon’s registry,” Roat explained, adding that many remote LSPs might simply opt not to work in Oregon, which represents a relatively small share of the market.

“Common sense prevailed, at least for another year,” ALC Advocacy Consultant Bill Rivers wrote in an update on the bill. “We expect that [proponents] will try again, but we will be ready.”

Tip of the hat to Katharine Allen for an update on this development.