Language barriers can add complexity to the delivery of healthcare. Currently, only 13 states are reported to reimburse for interpretation services—and are provided only for Medicaid patients. A new white paper co-authored by Izabel E.T. de V. Souza, former president and executive director of the International Medical Interpreters Association, investigates how an exploding patient population of foreign-language speakers poses significant risks to healthcare providers.

Titled “The Perfect Storm,” this white paper discusses trends, research studies, and data, that point to the need for an immediate paradigm shift, according to a media release issued by de V. Souva and co-author Louis Provenzano. The work includes a cost analysis that quantifies the problem and the specific cost benefits of reimbursement.

According to the authors, nearly 20% of the population is “language minority,” and while covered by private insurers, Medicaid, and Medicare, this minority group reportedly does not receive meaningful care due to language barriers. In some cases, hospitals are said to provide these services as an administrative cost. The authors report, however, that the extensive budget cuts leveled on many healthcare facilities include interpreter services departments.

The white paper states that the number of Limited English Proficient patients (LEPs) is dramatically increasing while budgets associated with language services for language minority patients are slashed. The authors cite US Census Bureau figures that indicate LEPs grew 81% from 1990 to 2011, reaching a current estimate of nearly 18 million. They add that while there are interpreters available for service, they are often not available or are even called for healthcare encounters due to financial barriers, among other obstacles.

“This ever-growing gap is unattainable and poses the possibility of a catastrophic future that endangers the health and safety of language minority patients, the financial stability of healthcare facilities, and the overall quality of care in our ever-diversifying, multicultural country,” the authors write.

Main points addressed by the white paper include the following:

  • The true cost of providing interpreting services, and the impact it has on providing cost-efficient and patient-safe healthcare services.
  • Factors that cause the situation to be unsustainable.
  • What must be done to ensure all patients have access to meaningful, safe services with measurable impact for a healthier America?
[Source: Izabel E.T. de V. Souza and Louis F. Provenzano, Jr]