Interpreter Services Talking Points

Why insurance should pay for interpreters

About 437,000 (9.4 percent) of Minnesota residents speak a language other than English at home, and about 185,000 (4 percent) have limited English proficiency, according to 2005 U.S. Census figures. A study published in Minnesota Medicine in December of 2004 found that 88 percent of surveyed physicians provided interpreter services and about half of the physicians frequently provided those services. This is an issue that affects the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.

This underfunded system endangers patients. Research has shown that language barriers can lead to impaired health status; reduced access to medical care; and lower rates of preventive screenings. Language barriers increase the chance a patient will suffer drug complications and medical errors. A lack of qualified interpreters can increase costs by lengthening medical visits, increasing use of diagnostic tests, and causing malpractice cases.

Minnesota’s largest malpractice insurer, Minnesota Medical Insurance Co. (MMIC), has seen that language issues are increasingly becoming a factor in malpractice cases. One MMIC case resulted in a $2 million payout after language barriers and a lack of an interpreter contributed to doctors misdiagnosing a stroke that paralyzed a female patient.

Certification programs can be successful. Washington - the only state with an interpreter certification program - managed to cut the cost of providing interpreter services by about $12 million a year, or nearly by half, after it instituted a system where 13 regional, independent brokers manage interpreting assignments and payment.