Many of Legal Aid’s clients who rely on Medicaid1 or the DC Healthcare Alliance2 for health care don’t speak English well. Our limited English proficient (LEP) clients rely on interpreters to communicate with their doctors and access their health insurance benefits. These language services not only enhance the quality of care that individuals receive, but they serve important public health interests as well. Not to mention that local and federal law require that these language services be provided.
This week Legal Aid testified before the Health Committee of the DC Council about the Mayor’s proposed budget for the Department of Health Care Finance (DHCF), the District agency that administers Medicaid and the Alliance and also submitted written testimony in follow-up. We are concerned about the proposed cut to DHCF’s budget for language services. While a cut of $14,000 may not seem like much in the midst of the District’s budget crisis, the cut perpetuates the alarming trend of diminishing resources that were already drastically low.
Changes to the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the passage of health reform, for example, will mean an even higher demand for language access coordination as more immigrants will now qualify for Medicaid or CHIP coverage. This transition will save the District money by bringing in more federal health care dollars, but the savings will depend on effective outreach to the affected communities.
DHCF has one of the largest budgets in the District because it has enormous responsibilities and serves over 200,000 District residents. To devote less than one full-time equivalent for language services reflects the Administration’s lack of commitment to serving the LEP community properly. We urge the Council to give DHCF the resources it needs to ensure that all Medicaid and Alliance beneficiaries, regardless of their spoken language, have access to quality health care.
1 Medicaid is a federal medical assistance program for persons living in poverty who fall into certain categories, such as children, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities. Only certain categories of immigrants can qualify for Medicaid.
2 The DC Healthcare Alliance is a health care program for uninsured District residents with incomes below 200 percent of poverty who are not eligible for Medicaid. Unlike Medicaid, the Alliance does not restrict eligibility on the basis of citizenship or immigration status.