What Will Affect Interpreting Services in the New Year

A light bulb on a chalkboard with thought bubbles representing ideas about the future of interpreting services.

As we close out the second decade of the 21st century, we wanted to take a moment to look ahead at what the next year will bring the language industry. Demand for language services is at an all-time high, but that growth has come with some steep hills to climb — in essence, 2019 left some dust that 2020 will have to brush off.

But there are some exciting things to look forward to as well, as technology continues to play an important role in the future of interpreting.

So as the year flips over, here are a few things to keep an eye on that, most likely, whether you’re an interpreter, an agency, or a user of such services, will have an impact on how you operate.

Section 1557 proposed changes

In May 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a statement outlining proposed changes to Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The proposed changes from May 2019 loosen the regulations that were, in part, meant to strengthen awareness and compliance in access to language services. HHS claims that the changes, such as eliminating the tagline and notice requirements, could save an estimated “$3.6 billion in unnecessary regulatory costs over five years.”

If you need a refresher, Section 1557 is the civil rights provision of the ACA that works in tandem with established laws like Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. It requires covered entities (certain programs that receive federal funds) to provide limited English proficient individuals meaningful access to language services.

While this sounds compelling monetarily, it’s not clear that these rollbacks won’t be harmful.

Eliminating taglines is not the correct solution. There is a way to inform folks while being cost-conscious.

Mara Youdelman, JD

The comment period closed in August 2019, and thus the future of Section 1557 continues to remain uncertain approaching 2020. If all or part of the proposed changes do take effect, individual states might have to look inward and create policies of their own to protect the rights of their non-English-speaking residents.

Related: New Section 1557 Revisions in the Works That Could Affect Language Access

California AB5

Language industry professionals across the county have their eye on January 1, 2020, as California’s polarizing bill, AB5, is set to take effect.

Signed into law in September 2019, AB5 is California’s way of pushing back on the “gig economy,” a clever new name for a not-so-new worker classification: the freelancers, contractors, and independent workforce.

Gig workers are not considered employees of the organization for which they deliver service; therefore, they do not receive the typical protections employees receive, like benefits or (in some case) fair wages and treatment.

AB5 is intended to end the misclassification and mistreatment of gig economy workers, like those who work for ridesharing or food-delivery services. But the law has consequences for industries and organizations far more widespread than Uber and Grubhub.

Without an exemption for contract interpreters and translators in California, which currently is not in place, these language industry professionals will have to become full-time employees, or as Barry Slaughter Olsen and Katharine Allen explained in their statement supporting an exemption:

“Put simply, any California-based interpreter or translator or any interpreter or translator performing work in the state of California wishing to not be classified as an employee of every single language service company they work for in the state would be required to incorporate as a business and be subject to all laws, regulations and reporting requirements affecting California corporations. Working as a sole proprietor or LLC would no longer suffice.”

If interpreters and translators do not receive an exemption under AB5, freelance language industry professionals in other states — and the industry as a whole, for that matter — should be worried. Since California is seen as a trailblazer in social, economic, and legislative movements, other states could follow their lead with similar laws.

The Coalition of Practicing Translators and Interpreters of California (CoPTIC) was formed in response to AB5. The group comprises professional interpreters and translators working in California and is currently lobbying for an exemption for those professionals who wish to remain autonomous.

Don’t sleep on this one in 2020. It could have major ramifications on the future of the language industry.

Related: California AB5: Resources for Interpreters and How You Can Help

VRI and micro call centers

While healthcare systems see the value in routine use of interpreting services — including improved clinical outcomes for limited English proficient patients — knowing something should be done doesn’t mean it is. There are countless stories of non-English-speaking patients not receiving interpreting services, even though, in most cases, it’s the law.

We absolutely don’t want to point fingers. The truth is, most systems are under a tremendous amount of financial and regulatory pressure, not to mention a shift toward a “consumer-oriented culture,” to fill an entire hospital ward.

Language services suffer from a lack of reimbursement. Pair that with tightening budgets and a heavy workload for providers, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for underutilized and underfunded language access programs.

This is why some healthcare systems are looking within to solve the problem.

Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas, recently adopted an in-house micro call center model. The call center leverages a video remote interpreting (VRI) platform to host the hospital’s internal interpreters. Calls are routed internally first before they are outsourced to a third-party language service provider.

According to an article published in Slator, Parkland’s director of language services Meredith Stegall realized the system was spending over 9 million dollars a year on third-party interpreting services.

“Given Dallas’s Hispanic population and Spanish-speaking population, and the need for living wage jobs,” stated Stegall, “we felt like we could create a lower cost, higher value-to-the-county model by insourcing.”

She got to work going through the process of hiring 80 interpreters from the community, and the initial results of the effort look promising. The system was able to save 1.2 million dollars so far, create local jobs, and up their quality of interpretation through training and more oversight.

Creating internal micro call centers on a VRI platform is a movement we’ve been seeing more and more over the last few years, and as evidenced by Parkland’s hard work, the benefits can be measurable.

The future of interpreting

Changes are rippling through the language industry in ways big and small. From interpreters adapting to keep up with evolving language (like gender-inclusive pronouns and new scientific terms, to name just two examples) to the shifting role of machine-based interpretation, there are a lot of opportunities on the horizon. Despite the unknowns, we’re excited to see what’s coming in 2020.

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