Who covers the cost of medical interpreting?
Considering the twenty-five million limited-English proficiency (LEP) residents of the United States, there is a demand for linguists in every field. In the medical field, language barriers create miscommunication and misunderstandings that can lead to dramatic consequences. Interpreters are vetted for accuracy and aptitude through a lengthy screening process to ensure the safety and privacy of the patient. A misunderstanding of one word or phrase can mean life or death; so when dealing with physicians as an LEP or a native speaker, it is of utmost importance that you and the doctor are in sync. Medical interpreters interpret via three different platforms: in person (on-site), telephone, and video.
Will I have to pay out-of-pocket for my interpreter?
While the need for medical interpreters is obvious, understanding if you will have to pay for your medical interpreter is less clear. To clarify, here are two general circumstances where your medical interpreter, in every facet, will be covered free of charge:
- If you are being treated at a federally-funded medical center (mainly hospitals)
- If you have medical insurance through Medicare or Medicaid
However, if you do not fall under either of these circumstances, the coverage of the interpreter is left to your insurance company or, in some cases, the private clinic you are attending.
Does my insurance company cover interpreting services?
In all likelihood, yes. Nearly all large-scale insurance companies around the United States will cover the payment of interpreting services or will offer their own telephonic or virtual interpreter for the patient. Furthermore, if you live in California or New Jersey, all insurance companies must provide interpreters free of charge. However, since not all states mandate that insurance companies must provide interpreters free of charge, there are specific instances with small insurance companies where medical interpreting is not covered. In order to know the specifics of what your insurance company and your plan cover, you must contact the company for this information.
It is important to note that a repeal or replacement of the Affordable Care Act could dramatically change policies requiring/providing interpreting services. If this does happen, you should immediately contact your insurance company to ensure continuity in your coverage.
What types of interpreters will my insurance cover?
In the majority of situations, medical centers and insurance companies alike will insist on a telephonic or virtual interpreter. This is simply a cost-cutting measure employed by the organization to provide interpreting services at the cheapest cost. However, there are situations where, with the physician’s recommendation, on-site interpretation will be provided free of charge. These tend to be extreme circumstances, such as any surgery that requires constant, reliant, and immediate interpreting. If you would prefer an on-site interpreter, you can always request one through either your insurance company or the medical center. That being said, unless there is a demonstrated need for an on-site interpreter, it is unlikely one will be provided free of charge. In that circumstance, the patient can always provide their own medically certified interpreter.
What languages are covered?
Federal law dictates that hospitals and all other federally-funded medical centers must provide interpreting services for any language that 10% of the non-English speaking population in the county speaks. That being said, many hospitals and many insurance agencies cover a wide variety of languages that are typically reflective of their customer base. Services for rare languages tend to be limited to telephonic and video-interpretation.