On Tuesday, September 14, NWFCO organized a meeting in Washington, D.C. with the Department of Health of Human Services to discuss the importance of language access in health care. Members from NWFCO and several organizations from the Health Rights Organizing Project, including Make the Road New York, The Community Service Society of New York, The National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), and Washington Community Action Network, had the ear of many folks within HHS, including representatives from the Offices of Health Reform, Civil Rights, External Affairs, and Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.For many people in the United States, competent language services are literally a matter of life or death in the clinical setting. The meeting opened with Yolanda Tinoco of Washington CAN! sharing her personal story about the urgent need for adequate medical translation and language services. Nora Chaves and Theo Oshiro also told stories of community members in New York, and Hemi Kim from NAKASEC showed a video with three stories of Korean seniors in Los Angeles.
After sharing these stories, HROP representatives presented HHS with their recommendations for federal language access standards, including making competent language services part of the essential benefits package as defined by HHS and requiring health insurers to provide and pay for interpretation, translation, and literacy-appropriate information. Community members also urged their government representatives to streamline and simplify the state exchange enrollment process, as well as ensure competent interpretation and translation at all levels of the state exchanges and that people of limited prose literacy have full access to these exchanges.
At the meeting, HROP members were alerted to the importance of the comment submissions process that will allow them to have input at the federal level; currently, comments from health insurance companies dominate. In the coming weeks and months, NWFCO and HROP will continue to prioritize language access by briefing local organizers around the country on the submissions process, then encouraging groups and individuals to flood the process with comments and personal stories. Groups will recruit higher profile community members such as legislators and city council members to submit comments in support of our position. NWFCO and HROP will also urge HHS to hold public forums on proposed regulations to ensure that the voices of the many people for whom language access is as essential to survival as the medical services themselves are heard.