California state legislators are considering a bill that will allow interpreters to join the public employees union. These Medi-Cal interpreters would remain independent contractors but would still pay dues to the union and a guaranteed compensation of at least $60 an hour. The California Medical Assistance Program provides health coverage to low-income Californians.
The new union deal for interpreters will be similar to the arrangement with In-Home Supportive Services workers, also self-employed but represented by public employee unions in negotiations with each county in California.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is pushing the bill and is jockeying for position to represent Medi-Cal interpreters if the measure becomes law. The bill is sponsored by Assembly Speaker John A. Perez.
With 7 million LEP (Limited English Proficiency) Californians, state law already requires Medi-Cal providers to offer interpretation. Supporters of the new legislation complained of inadequate service and oversight.
The bill would require the state personnel Board to determine appropriate testing, training and certification of Medi-Cal interpreters. A grandfather clause would protect those already employed who might not pass the test.
The Department of Health Care Services would oversee a new program, CommuniCal, to provide certified medical interpreters for LEP Medi-Cal users.
Last year, a similar bill failed to pass. The state Department of Finance, noting that Medi-Cal providers already are required to provide translation, questioned the need for such legislation.
“It is unclear to what extent access to interpretation services are insufficient in the current Medi-Cal program,” the Finance Department said.
Of 4.5 million Californians enrolled in a Medi-Cal managed care plan, records show only two problems reported to the Department of Managed Health Care appeared to be tied to medical interpreting over the past year.
Health Care Services Deputy Director Jane Ogle said there may be some anecdotal complaints, but that she is not aware of major systemic flaws in interpreting.
“We have not seen any gaps in service that we have become concerned about,” she said.
I don’t have any context here to even make a smart-alecky remark. Are interpreters unionized elsewhere in the United States? Readers, please edify.
$60 an hour seems pretty optimistic for community interpreters in California. My limited exposure to that market has been painful, at least wallet-wise. The lowball prices I’ve heard bandied around suggest that many of those interpreters may not be so highly skilled.
But no matter where you are in California, and no matter what language you may speak, professional translation by carefully trained medical specialists is only one touchpad away at 1-800-Translate! That number again: 1-800-872-6752.
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