Language access services not commonly offered by Medicare providers

Only one-third of Medicare providers offered services that met all four of the Office of Minority Health's (OMH) Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health Care (CLAS) standards on language access services. This finding came from Guidance and Standards on Language Access Services: Medicare Providers, a report released Thursday by the Office of the Inspector General.

The CLAS standards are designed to help providers respond to the cultural and linguistic needs of diverse populations. The language access standards call for Medicare providers to:

  • Provide language access services during all business hours.
  • Provide verbal offers and written notices of the rights to language access services.
  • Assure the competence of language assistance provided by staff.
  • Provide written materials and signage translated into appropriate languages.

The good news is that 73 percent of providers reported benefits to offering language access services. The four most commonly reported benefits were improved communication, improved adherence to treatment regimens, improved diagnosis and treatment, and fewer complaints.

Fifty-four percent of providers reported obstacles. Among them, a lack of training resources for staff, the costs of providing language access services, and the broad range of languages spoken in the providers' communities topped the list.

OIG assessed Medicare providers' voluntary compliance with OCR guidance and CLAS standards by examining the extent to which providers conducted a four-factor assessment recommended by OCR guidance and offered language access services consistent with CLAS standards.

Language access services are designed to promote effective communication between Limited English Proficient (LEP) people and non-LEP people. Language access services may include oral interpretation, written translation, and other provisions that enhance communication, including translated signs.

The report was based on a 2009 survey of 140 randomly selected Medicare providers located in counties with a high percentage of people with limited English proficiency. Compliance with CLAS standards is voluntary.

To learn more:
- read the OIG's Guidance and Standards on Language Access Services: Medicare Providers

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