State-funded medical interpreters at risk in WA

medical interpretersSince Washington residents voted in November to reduce taxes, the state legislature has been scrambling in special sessions to cut budgets even further, reaching into education and health care programs once again — and this time, interpreter services may be affected.

Some of this budget shortfall comes after citizens voted to reduce taxes and to repeal the candy and bottled water tax, which alone would have given the state about $300 million in the next three years (Study: 2010 Initiatives Could Impact Public Services).

To close this budget gap, legislators are considering a budget cut that would eliminate the state-funded interpreter program. Currently, the state subsidizes interpreter services for hospitals and clinics that serve Medicaid patients.

This possible $2 million budget cut, as explained in the Seattle P-I, could encourage practitioners to reduce their number of limited-English Medicaid patients. Cutting the program would shift the cost of hiring interpreters to doctors, hospitals and clinics or worse, it might encourage medical providers to start using family members to perform essential interpretation services.

Although some social services will need to be cut in the state to make up for the tax reduction, this could be a dangerous budget cut. Medical interpreting should not be taken lightly, especially in the administering of prescription drugs. Even if many of these patients do speak some English, it is often not enough to clearly understand their treatment options; for their safety, dosage and side effects should be explained to patients in their most fluent language.

Seattle P-I article: Cut could eliminate interpreters for thousands