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The Cost of Interpreters Would Burden Doctors

August 06, 2003

The Times misstates reality in "Speak Up for Kids' Sake" (editorial, July 26), endorsing a sweeping bill that would bar immigrant parents from permitting their own children to serve as interpreters for them. The Times claims that interpreters are "inexpensive and readily available." That is just not true. If it were, physicians would have no difficulty with this mandate. Rather, the cost of providing interpreters for all patients is prohibitive for most physicians. More than 100 languages are spoken in California.

Many physicians do speak a second language, and others employ multilingual office staff. But what is the solution for a Central Los Angeles practice that already employs a Spanish- and Korean-speaking staff when a Russian immigrant comes in the door? Medi-Cal pays less than $25 for a general office visit. Interpreters bill at $100 an hour.

What is at risk with this proposed government mandate is access to care and the physician's ability to continue to serve everyone in California's polyglot and diverse communities. The use of interpreters is, of course, necessary for complex and sensitive discussions, such as the diagnosis of cancer. But for problems such as a sore throat, where communication is simple, it is not. We do not need a sweeping and costly mandate when good judgment would suffice.

Anmol S. Mahal MD

Vice Chair, California

Medical Assn., Sacramento

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