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California Makes Progress On Launching Medical Interpretation Study

Mohamed Mohamed, a senior at San Diego High School, protests poor interpretat...

Photo by Megan Burks

Above: Mohamed Mohamed, a senior at San Diego High School, protests poor interpretation services at UCSD Medical Center, July 9, 2013. He says he's missed several days of class — even his high school exit exam — because he has to interpret for his dad at doctors' appointments.

How well do health care providers translate for patients who speak another language? California has taken another step toward answering that question.

The Department of Health Care Services hired a lead employee to carry out an evaluation of interpretation services for Medi-Cal patients. Director Jennifer Kent said the new addition will spearhead the project, which was mandated by an assembly bill that passed last year.

"This individual will be the subject matter expert working with our procurement team about, 'How do we go out and retain an outside consultant to kind of do the serious peer review study?' and 'What else has been done in other states?' and 'How does the financing work?'" Kent said in a phone interview.

Kent said the new health program specialist will help secure a consultant to execute the study, which involves establishing deliverables and deadlines.

"I think that this individual that we've retained within the department will be kind of key to helping set some of those dates and time frames out," Kent said.

The immigrant community of City Heights in San Diego has for years been calling for better interpretation services, which is required by state law. However, some providers may rely on translation services by phone or a family member, which critics feel is inadequate.

State Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, authored the legislation for the study after previous attempts to fund in-person interpreters failed.

Atkins this month received the governor's approval on a separate bill also focused on interpretation services. The legislation "requires health plans in California to meet the nondiscrimination, consumer protection and language assistance standards that currently exist in the federal Affordable Care Act – regardless of what may happen to the ACA in the future."

How well do health care providers translate for patients who speak another language? California has taken a key step toward answering that question.

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