Millions of Californians with limited English proficiency now have the right to an interpreter from their commercial health and dental plans - made possible by a first-in-the-nation law aimed at dismantling the language barriers that get in the way of good medicine.Does that mean that we native English speakers can get a translator for an unintelligible foreign doctor?
The new regulation - implemented New Year's Day after five years of hearings, delays and wrangling among insurance companies, regulators and consumer advocates - is widely hailed as a milestone in reducing mistakes because of miscommunication.
"This is really huge, especially in California where we're getting more and more diverse," said Martin Martinez,[Email him] policy director for the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. "Even if you speak English well, it's really hard to understand what your doctor is saying." [It's the law: California patients can have an interpreter at their side, ByBobby Caina Calvan, Sacramento Bee, January 4, 2009]
As many as 7 million Californians - about half of them enrolled in health maintenance organizations, or HMOs - lack English fluency and could benefit from the new language service. [...]In none of the stories about the need for translators does anyone in the press or in the affected agencies ever suggest that "immigrants" should learn to speak English for their own health, success and well being.
Doctors' orders will now have to be translated, at least orally, into Spanish, Mandarin, Hmong, Russian - any spoken language.
The scope and cost of the task - estimated by insurers to be about $25 million - make it the biggest regulation effort undertaken by the California Department of Managed Health Care, which oversees HMOs.
The law, Senate Bill 853, was signed in 2003 but shelved as part of a moratorium imposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger when he took office. It was finally dusted off, but insurers balked at the cost.
Finally, the California Constitution states that English is the official language, but it hasn't done a damn bit of good.
ARTICLE 3 STATE OF CALIFORNIA
SEC. 6. (a) Purpose.
English is the common language of the people of the United States of America and the State of California. This section is intended to preserve, protect and strengthen the English language, and not to supersede any of the rights guaranteed to the people by this Constitution.
(b) English as the Official Language of California. [...]