$3 million secured for medical interpretation services in California’s budget

Interpreting services for Medi-Cal patients expanded in the state budget, allowing meaningful access to in-person interpretation for the first time

Included in the fiscal year 2016-17 budget and signed by Governor Brown today is $3 million to fund medical interpretation services for non-English speaking Medi-Cal patients. California will accept federal dollars to help pay for interpreters, which will not only allow medical providers to communicate with their patients, but also save the state millions in costs incurred by failed communication such as missed appointments, unclear treatment plans, and misdiagnoses.

This victory tells the nearly seven million Californians with language access needs that the state is ready to speak the language of care.

“We have to remember we live in a state rich in diversity – including language diversity,” said Carlos Garcia, an interpreter and board director of the California Healthcare Interpreting Association and the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care. “Medical interpreters bridge the gap between patients who need care and health care professionals, preventing detrimental mistakes in diagnosis and care. Today’s victory will give millions the confidence to know they are understanding and being understood.”

Almost half of Medi-Cal patients speak a language other than English, but qualified medical interpreters are in short supply. Millions of Californians need access to an interpreter to understand their health care provider, and a lack of medical interpretation services in the state has led to a breakdown in health care quality, including injuries and even deaths.

Interpreting for California has worked for the last several years to make language access in health care a reality for millions of Californians whose primary language is not English. By building the medical interpreters program into Medi-Cal, we not only ensure patients with language access needs get quality care, but we do so in a cost-effective way. The federal government will reimburse 50% to 100% of the state’s Medi-Cal cost for interpretation.

An investment in medical interpretation services is smart policy for the state of California, and an important step forward in improving medical outcomes and saving lives.