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Life Health > Health Insurance > Health Insurance

Calif. Language Deadline Nears

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Golden State health plans have just two more weeks to comply with their state’s “language assistance services” law.

The law requires managed care plans and health insurance plans in the state to make an effort by April 1 to provide language assistance services for members with limited ability to speak English.

The services are required by S.B. 853, a bill passed by California lawmakers in 2003.

Health plans and translation services have been hurrying to find ways to work together to comply with the mandate.

The regulations implementing the statute “do not specifically address agents or brokers,” says Kathleen Donovan, senior compliance counsel at Wolters Kluwer Financial Services, Waltham, Mass.

But benefits advisors will need to understand the language assistance services mandate to explain it to their clients, Donovan says.

Health plans will have to translate documents such as standard letters and notice of insurance eligibility as well as denial notices and grievance filing rights notices, officials say.

Plans will have to accommodate the needs of enrollees speaking “threshold languages.”

S.B. 853 defines threshold languages as being the two languages other than English spoken most frequently by a health plan’s enrollees, or a language spoken by at least 15,000 or 0.75% of a plan’s enrollees, according to an analysis posted by the Health Industry Collaboration Effort Inc., Newport Beach, Calif.

CIGNA Corp., Philadelphia, for example, reports in a discussion of the mandate aimed at doctors that it believes its enrollees’ threshold languages are Spanish and traditional Chinese.

Other carriers have identified languages such as Farsi and Russian as threshold languages, Donovan says.

Although complying with the language assistance mandate may be challenging for some carriers, for the most part, “I believe this has been a relatively well-publicized, well-run program,” Donovan says.


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