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Assemblywoman Atkins Tries Again To Get Medical Interpretation Covered

Photo by Katie Schoolov

A receptionist helps patients at San Diego's La Maestra Community Health Center in City Heights in this undated photo.

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San Diego Assemblywoman Toni Atkins and other lawmakers have tried and failed three times to pass bills that would increase access to language interpretation at doctors' offices and hospitals.

San Diego Assemblywoman Toni Atkins said she's working with the Governor's Office to include $15 million in the next state budget for medical interpretation.

Gov. Jerry Brown, a fellow Democrat, has vetoed two bills on the issue and a third failed to get traction in recent years.

It's something San Diego immigrants and advocates throughout the state have been pushing for since 2012. They've shared stories of misdiagnoses, having their children relay sensitive medical information and procedures gone wrong. One woman told KPBS she couldn't tell her doctor she was circumcised and needed to have a C-section before giving birth vaginally.

Atkins said 7 million Californians do not speak English fluently and are similarly at risk without certified interpreters.

"We have expanded (health care) and gotten better and better as we have rolled out the Affordable Care Act, but we're only really going to provide true access if we're able include the language capabilities," Atkins said.

Most medical providers already offer interpretation over the phone, but patients have said not having that person in the room means some messages are still lost. Community clinics often hire from within the communities they serve to help with interpretation, but the clinics currently can't bill Medi-Cal for that service.

The $15 million would allow the state to tap into federal matching funds available for interpretation. The service would then be covered at no cost to the patient under Medi-Cal.

In his veto messages, Brown said the state couldn't pay for medical interpretation because, at the time, the state was still bouncing back from the recession and rolling out the Affordable Care Act.

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