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Lost In Translation: The Need for Interpreter Certification

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, October 14, 2009

The federal government offers states matching funding up to 75% for interpretive services for patients eligible for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

According to Provenzano's report, 12 states and the District of Columbia have implemented such programs. These states have developed mechanisms for reimbursement, along with qualifications and standards for interpretation and translation services. "Federal matching funds ensure that states can achieve these goals in a way that is cost-effective for their own fiscal health."

Few private health insurers reimburse for translator services, such as Kaiser Permanente and Group Health Cooperative, which provide the services for their members.

If providers are to make a solid case that they deserve reimbursement for providing quality translation services, they should be able to measure the quality of those services. Certification is one way to accomplish that.

"Right now in any clinical, hospital or physician setting, people on a team are assisting a non-English speaking patient, such as a physician, nurse, ultrasound tech—and all of these people have a license and are certified," Conroy says.

"The only person who is not is the medical interpreter."


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Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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