Filed February 5, 2021
People with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) have a right to language assistance services when they visit a health care provider. Language assistance ensures they understand the medical information and instructions they receive. And don’t have to rely on informal, unqualified interpreters like family members. Data shows that LEP patients report lower quality care and experience more medical errors than English-speaking patients. Language barriers exacerbate existing health disparities in communities of color and immigrant communities—some of the very same communities most at risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19. Yet in the waning days of the Trump Administration, the federal government eliminated protections for LEP individuals in health care.
Justice in Aging and the Center for Medicare Advocacy, along with pro bono firm Stinson LLP, filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of Chinatown Service Center and St Barnabas Senior Services, two Los Angeles area community-based organizations that provide social services to LEP older adults.
There are more than 6.5 million people over 60 in the United States who are LEP. Plaintiffs assist older LEP clients in navigating the health care system and interpreting important documents from health care providers, among other services. As a large number of LEP older adults attempt to access health care during the pandemic, they are left to rely solely on community-based organizations because the Trump Administration eliminated these important language access requirements in health care. These organizations have seen a surge in demand for help interpreting information and, most recently, booking vaccine appointments, leading to longer wait times for other critical services they provide their clients including nutrition, transportation for preventive and routine care, and help applying for housing vouchers.
UPDATE: On October 13, the Court issued an order staying the case until further notice. In addition, the Court ordered HHS to provide bi-monthly updates starting at the end of November regarding its progress towards revising the current rule. As we continue to advocate to restore meaningful language access in healthcare for the millions of LEP older adults, this order will ensure that progress does not get mired in a lengthy administrative process, and HHS focuses on addressing language access in any new rule.
Read the Order Staying the Case (October 13, 2021)
Read the Press Release (February 5, 2021)
Read the Complaint (February 5, 2021)