HealthLeaders-InterStudy, a leading provider of managed care market intelligence, reports that California health plans submitted proposals to the state Department of Managed Health Care on July 1 outlining how they will implement language assistance requirements which go into effect in January 2009. According to the most recent California Health Plan Analysis, the regulations require health plans to provide interpretation services for any language a member of a commercial plan requests, and to translate vital documents into the top spoken language among a plan's membership.
"Although the translation efforts are consuming considerable resources for California health plans, compliance with the regulations is made somewhat easier, particularly for the larger plans, because similar requirements are in place for Medi-Cal," said Chris Lewis, an analyst with HealthLeaders-InterStudy and author of the report. "To meet these new requirements, health plans had to survey their memberships to assess the language needs of enrollees. However, there is some concern that health plans are not doing enough to truly gauge the needs of the membership, as well as notify them of their new rights."
If a health plan has more than one million members, it must translate materials into the top two non-English languages spoken by its members. For plans with 300,000 to one million members, translation of materials into only one language is required. Lastly, for those under 300,000 enrollees, the law requires translation when 3,000 or more, or 5 percent -- whichever is less -- of the commercial enrollee population indicates a preference for translation into that language.
As part of the regulation, health plans also must arrange to have the spoken word interpreted into any language requested. How this will be achieved is at the plan's discretion, and may include in-person interpreters or contracting with a language call center to do phone-based interpretations.
According to the report, the law affects some 107 health plans licensed by the Department of Managed Health Care. Initial costs associated with compliance are estimated between $12 million and $25 million.
The regulations were first identified in 2003 when the state passed the most comprehensive law in the country that addressed the language needs of commercial health plan members, and were finalized after multiple stakeholder meetings and two public hearings. Additionally, the law, known as Senate Bill 853, was held up for years because of a moratorium on regulations enacted by the Gov. Schwarzenegger administration.
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