Overwhelmed US Dentists Plead for More Time to Comply With Translation Rules

A US federal law requiring translation services for limited English proficiency patients has left America’s dentists scrambling to find a solution. Pushing back, Arizona’s dentists joined several dental associations from around the country in pleading for more time to comply.

The translation requirement, part of the nondiscrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act, came into effect July 18, 2016. The law requires health service providers participating in the US Medicaid and Medicare programs to provide translations for the top 15 non-English languages spoken in their state.

“This adds another layer of costs to delivering services,” said Kevin Earle, executive director of the Arizona Dental Association. On top of the additional translation cost, Earle bemoaned the difficulty in finding companies that offer appropriate translation services.

“There are technical terms…and you have to find a way to translate technical terms and understand a little bit about healthcare to be able to communicate effectively,” he said.

In light of the issue, the Organized Dentistry Coalition sent a letter, dated July 29, 2016, to the US Department of Health and Human Services, requesting a reprieve from the translation requirement, “until there is sufficient time to allow…our members to meet the requirements.”

The Coalition also asked for “relief for our members working in small practice settings” and requested that the “most burdensome regulations” only apply to those who employ at least 25 staff.

According to an August 2, 2016 article published on a local station’s website, a large number of the 3,200 practicing dentists registered with the Arizona Dental Association run solo or small group practices. These small practices reportedly find the added translation requirement too taxing.

“Certainly we don’t want to have a situation where a dentist may choose, because of the burden of these regulations, to exit the Medicaid program. That’s an outcome that’s not good for patients, nor is it good for the dental profession,” Earle pointed out.

Earle said they are looking for a six-month reprieve, but said the federal government has yet to respond to the beleaguered dentists’ request.