Alternative to interpreter mandate: Patients can learn to speak English, as others have for centuries

LETTER — Posted Jan. 26, 2004

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Regarding "HHS eases interpreter mandate but doctors must pay the bills" (Article, Oct. 13, 2003): I don't remember going down the rabbit hole with Alice, but in the words of Lewis Carroll, things sure seem to be getting "curiouser and curiouser."

Doctors are required, at their expense, to provide interpreters for patients with "limited English proficiency," even if the interpreter cost is more than the service.

"Just accepting one Medicaid patient requires you to offer limited English services to all patients who have a deficiency in the English language," according to a source quoted in the article.

The example given was of a Hmong patient. I thought we were talking about Spanish, French and German, but Hmong? This has to be a humongous mistake.

Ignored is the U.S. communication program that has been remarkably successful for over 200 years and it certainly wasn't making thousands of individual doctors find access to the interpreters of hundreds of languages. (If this were proposed for other businesses, it would be ridiculed and defeated. Unfortunately the doctor abuse hotline does not exist and something too stupid for the general population is just fine for doctors.)

The successful program with the tremendous track record that applied to most of our ancestors went like this: Wake up, you are in America! If you want to communicate effectively with the population, provide your own interpreter or better still, learn English! Now language skills are a medical expense and the abdication of individual responsibility marches on.

Can you imagine me going to where Hmong is spoken and demanding they provide me with an interpreter at their expense?

Edwin J. Masters, MD, Sikeston, Mo.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2004/01/26/edlt0126.htm.

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