Insurance Companies Weaken Language Access Regulations while Getting Wealthier

A few weeks ago, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a regulation stipulating that insurance companies only have to provide language services to a person with Limited English Proficiency if 10% of people in their county speak their same language. This is a high bar – only 177 out of 3,143 counties in the United States have communities that would qualify under this guideline. Hundreds of thousands of people will be left out due to this unscrupulous regulation. For instance, Spanish speakers in Los Angeles County will be able to communicate with their insurance companies, but speakers of Asian and Pacific Island languages won’t because they don’t meet the 10% threshold, which amounts to having 355,581 people not receiving language services.

These rules make insurance companies very happy. In fact, they lobbied strenuously to get these weak regulations enacted. Why? Because they don’t want to pay for interpretation and translation.

Taken at face value, their attempt to deny people with Limited English Proficiency the ability to understand and utilize their health insurance coverage is shameful. News today that insurers are still raking in record profits – UnitedHealth Group’s second quarter results indicate that their revenues for this year increased 8% or up to $25.2 billion – makes their actions totally defenseless. It’s hard to believe that they can’t afford to provide necessary language services to their customers.

Insurance companies are sitting on huge amounts of money while denying people their basic civil rights. They claim they can’t afford the burden of providing language services. This is unbelievable and unacceptable. The Department of Health and Human Services must update this regulation and hold health insurers accountable to ensuring language access for their customers.

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