An advocate for healthcare interpreters sits in an office and talks on the phone while looking over papers on Oregon HB 2359.

Answers to Your Top 5 Questions about Oregon House Bill 2359

If you work in the healthcare industry in Oregon, you’ve probably heard of House Bill 2359. But legalese can be confusing, as can the shifting requirements around this law. Our healthcare clients across the state are buzzing with questions about it. 

So we’re here to address the top 5 we’ve gotten. 

1. What is Oregon HB 2359?

HB 2359 is Oregon legislation that requires healthcare interpreters providing their services for Oregon-based medical facilities to be qualified or certified in Oregon. 

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) maintains the state registry of approved healthcare interpreters. Oregon’s Health Care Interpreter Program includes two levels of credentialing: qualification and certification. Each qualified/certified (Q/C) healthcare interpreter must fulfill a list of requirements depending on their level and provide supporting documentation. 

For example, the requirements to become a certified interpreter in Oregon include meeting the oral language proficiency requirements, at least 60 hours of formal healthcare interpreter training, proof of successful completion of training at an OHA-approved training center or equivalent, and at least 30 hours of documented interpreting experience.

It also requires proof of passing a certification test from one of the following:

  • National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters
  • Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters
  • Oregon Court Interpreter Certification
  • Federal Court Interpreter Certification exams
  • American Sign Language (ASL) Certification

The underlying goal of the bill is to make sure people have access to qualified healthcare interpreters, as vetted through the OHA. And it includes other conditions around recordkeeping and requiring healthcare providers to provide free personal protective equipment (PPE) for on-site interpreters. It also directs the OHA to develop policies, processes, and rules for improving and enforcing standards.

The final rules went into effect on July 1, 2022.

Related: OHA’s Fact Sheet: Oregon Health Care Interpreter Program Changes

2. Are there any exceptions to HB 2359?

Yes. While HB 2359 largely centers around the use of Q/C interpreters, it’s not completely black and white.

OHA allows a few exceptions to this requirement when:

  • The healthcare provider is proficient in the preferred language spoken by the person with limited English proficiency;
  • The person with limited English proficiency has an interpreter they prefer to work with who isn’t on the central registry; or
  • The healthcare provider wasn’t able to find an available interpreter on the registry.

3. Does HB 2359 apply to phone and video interpreters, too?

Not yet. For now, HB 2359 only applies to interpreters who provide services in person. Remote interpretation (telephone interpreting and video interpreting) is excluded from these requirements for the first year — until July 1, 2023.

Related: The Final Rule: What You Need to Know about Language Access and Section 1557

4. Why are remote interpreters temporarily excluded from HB 2359?

Currently, there are not enough Q/C remote interpreters on the OHA registry to satisfy the amount of interpreting that occurs every day across the state. 

At last count in Oregon, over 600,000 people speak a language other than English at home, and over 200,000 people speak English less than “very well.” On-site healthcare interpreters alone would not be enough to cover the interpretation needs of the 120+ languages spoken across the state

5. What does the future of HB 2359 look like?

No one can really answer this right now. But at CLI, our leadership team is working hard to try to get a permanent exemption for remote interpreters, for two main reasons:

  • Accessibility. We want to make sure Oregon medical providers have timely access to interpreters in every language — and that providers aren’t limited to the relatively small number of phone and video interpreters currently on the OHA registry. 
  • Viability for interpreters. It’s not realistic to expect that interpreters living in other states will be willing to get Oregon-specific certifications. Like many language service providers that support organizations on a national and even international level, the majority of interpreters that CLI works with are not physically located in Oregon. 

These considerations present clear challenges for healthcare facilities being able to comply with these requirements, no matter how well-intentioned the law is. 

It’s important that people with limited English proficiency are able to access healthcare through interpreters who can give them meaningful language support. It’s also important that remote interpreters can continue providing their valued services to people in Oregon.

In the meantime, we’re active behind the scenes and keeping a close eye on any developments around HB 2359.

Still have questions about Oregon HB 2359, or want to learn more about how we can connect your organization with healthcare interpreters? Get in touch with us!