The health care bill recently passed by Congress, a subject of much discussion, could dramatically change the way language services are procured in the health care industry. According to Common Sense Advisory, “Buyers of language services in health care need to pay close attention to the legislation, because the government is looking at the issue of linguistically appropriate care with a more watchful eye than ever.” The push for accuracy in translation and interpretation services in health care comes with good reason, as the consequences of a poor translation could be fatal.
In January 2009, California became the first state to pass a law requiring that health insurance organizations provide interpretation and translation services to patients with limited English proficiency. Similar legislation was also passed in New York City, requiring pharmacies to post signs letting customers know they offer translation services, which must include interpretation and translation of medication labels, guidance on how to take the prescription and information on warnings. These services can be provided over the phone, in person, or by a third-party contractor. The languages included are Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Russian, Korean, Italian and Polish. If a pharmacy does not comply with the law, it could face a fine of up to $2,500 for a first offense, and up to $5,000 for subsequent violations.