CA passes law requiring health plans to provide interpreters

California has passed a new law, believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S., that requires health insurers to provide an interpreter for patients with poor English skills. The law, which took effect Jan. 1, allows health plans to offer either an on-site interpreter or access to an interpreter through Web-based videoconferencing. It also requires health plans to translate their standard documents into the top two languages spoken by their members.

According to 2007 census figures, almost 43 percent of California residents don't speak English at home, and in some communities, 60 percent of residents speak little English. This lack of English proficiency has led to problems in accessing appropriate care for many immigrants, including wrong diagnoses, advocates say.

Expect this approach to migrate beyond trend-setting California. After all, it's far from the only state with large numbers of residents who don't speak English well, and the problem is only going to expand in coming years if current trends prevail.

To learn more about this law:
- read this Associated Press piece

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