CT Legislature restores funding for medical interpretation services under Medicaid

Days after the University of Connecticut School of Social Work hosted the first Latino Health Summit, the legislature restored full funding ($4.7 million) to make medical interpretation a covered service under Medicaid. The CT State Department of Social Services has been directed to amend the state Medicaid plan to add medical interpreting as a covered service by June 30, 2009.

Medical interpretation is a necessity because it increases health literacy which refers to the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health and service needed to make appropriate health decisions. The inability to communicate with a health care provider can result in serious injury or death. Health literacy is integrally linked to the many barriers of access and utilization of help seeking services, especially in a managed care environment. The growing interest in health literacy in the current research indicating that over 90 million people (including English speaking individuals) in the U.S. struggle to understand basic health information such as reading materials, prescription labels, filling out medical and insurance forms, and communicating with their provider. Some of the difficulties with service utilization may stem from the actual helping process itself.

In a Fact Sheet on Medicaid-Reimbursed Medical Interpretation compiled by the Connecticut Coalition for Medical Interpretation, the following facts are provided:

* An estimated 22,000 Medicaid recipients in Connecticut have limited English proficiency.

* Sixty-five different languages are spoken by low-income residents with limited English proficiency (LEP) in Connecticut.

* When qualified interpreters are not available, patients and providers resort to using untrained staff, friends, or family members, including children. This can result in misdiagnosed or undiagnosed medical conditions, delayed or inappropriate care, medical mistakes, and higher costs for the entire system, as well as compromised quality of care with regard to confidentiality and dignified provision of services.

* When medical interpretation is available, Latinos report an increase of 70% in their ability to understand a doctor’s instruction.

* The creation of a funding stream for medical interpretation serves as a catalyst for the establishment of a systematic and professional approach to the provision of interpretation services across the state, thereby helping to reduce language-based health disparities.

* Face-to-face interpretation services are preferred because they provide greater cultural sensitivity in the translation, leading to improved quality of care for patients.The Latino Summit was held on November 21 and was attended by more than 150 professionals from public and private organizations across many disciplines including health, social service and education. The Summit was the first step in creating a powerful network of Latino voices that, lifted as one, can change the system and improve the lives of Latino parents, partners, sisters, brothers and children. The Latino Summit participants showed leadership by prioritizing health concerns, and contracting to support solutions to eliminate health inequities. Action steps were identified as a response to the devastating health disparities that affect Latinos in CT. Medical interpretation is an example of what can be achieved.

The Latino Health Summit would not have been possible without the support of so many generous foundations, businesses and individuals including:

o The University of Connecticut School of Social Work

o The Center for Eliminating Health Disparities among Latinos

o The Hispanic Health Council

o The Latino Policy Institute

o The Universal Health Care Foundation

o The Connecticut Health Foundation