IGA Meets With CA Department of Industrial Relations
We met with Christine Baker, Director of the DIR (Department of Industrial Relations) and Destie Overpeck, Workers Compensation Administrator, on Monday, November 17, at their headquarters in Oakland, CA.
We explained that we were speaking on behalf of the Certified/Registered Independent Admin and Court Interpreters that work in the private sector. For most of the interpreters that we represent, private sector means a high percentage of Workers Comp depositions and medical-legal assignments.
Our members primarily cover defense discovery assignments that include depositions and medical evaluations such as AME’s, QME’s and IME’s. We surveyed interpreters and found that 83% of our assignments are booked by agencies (LSPs). Although we work well with most agencies, many will give us a hard time about rates and working conditions. This is all too prevalent in Workers Comp (WC) and especially the medical legal area.
The pressure to lower rates and accept non-standard working conditions (e.g., 3.5 hour half-days, short cancellations) in turn makes it harder for LSPs to find quality, certified interpreters willing to work for their rock bottom “WC” rates. The rates and conditions pressure in WC also contributes to the widespread use of non-certified interpreters by LSPs and an artificial “scarcity” of interpreters that has prompted the insurance lobby to take it upon themselves to “provisionally qualify” bilingual staff to interpret for limited English proficient (LEPs) injured workers.
In reality, there is an abundance of certified interpreters willing and able to fill assignments, if only they were paid a competitive, market rate and the 3-hour minimum/24-hour cancellation conditions were observed. We explained, with examples, the need for a 3-hour minimum and half-day scheduling in the deposition setting and the time constraints we independents have to work under.
We pointed out that the LSPs provide an important service to Insurance Companies and law firms by centralizing and facilitating their scheduling and invoicing for interpreting services (and in many cases court-reporting and transportation services also). Why not acknowledge that service and add a reasonable mark-up for it?
But don’t take it out of the independent interpreters’ fees. We aren’t employees, LSP’s don’t pay us benefits or pay our payroll taxes or vacation pay or medical insurance, etc. Their only overhead is marketing and scheduling. We pay for our own training, testing, continuing education and certification. We also cover all the other costs that come with being independent contractors.
But still, many agencies are skirting anti-trust laws and dictating low interpreter fees, very often below the minimum floor called for in the current code. Many also flaunt the 24-hour cancellation policy called for in the current code. And a great many also use non-certified bilingual people and invoice for them as certified interpreters. These and other tactics are used by some unscrupulous agencies to maintain their mark-ups by cutting our fees.
Ms. Baker and Ms. Overpeck agreed with our request for the 3-hour minimum and accepted it. We explained that our Northern California colleagues are already billing a 3-4 hour minimum and that they are requesting that it remain as such.
As far as the rates are concerned, we explained that they needed to be competitive to maintain quality standards and reduce the abuses in the system. When they brought up the CA Superior Court Per Diem Rate, we explained that carriers, such as SCIF, are paying that rate to the agencies as though they were the interpreters. That amount is too low for an agency to pay the interpreter and make a profit. We reminded them that the minimum payment for the interpreter in the private sector is higher due to business expenses such as self-employment tax, medical, vacation and retirement, etc. We proposed that the Federal Interpreter Rate was more in line with a reasonable floor for independent interpreter rates and that LSP mark-ups be considered separately.
We reminded them that we are the faces of the interpreting agency and the carriers that contract them. We are the ones doing all of the work. We told them that to be categorized with copy services is not only ridiculous, but also extremely disrespectful given that we are experts in our field with years invested in training and are certified by our state. Interpreters are highly qualified professionals, officers of the court, who must master the language and vocabulary of attorneys, doctors, varied workplaces and tasks, laypersons and experts… In two or more languages.
We brought up the concern about the possible HIPAA violations when going over the personal and medical history of the applicant. We also mentioned that it should be clear that the medically certified interpreter cannot be interpreting anything other than medicals.
We explained AB2370 to them and that many WC cases are companion cases to civil cases and/or criminal cases.
We commented on the letter that the Chamber of Commerce Coalition submitted stating “interpreters are gouging the insurance carriers”. We made sure to clarify that the “interpreter” they were talking about is probably one of those all-in-one agencies, not us.
All in all it was an extremely positive meeting. They appeared to really understand our concerns. In fact, they have asked us to assist them and will call upon us with further questions or concerns that they may have. We told them we would be happy to do so.
All in all, the big take away from the meeting was how little real, verifiable, actionable information had filtered down to them from all the lobbyists and interest groups that have each been spinning their particular agendas to these people charged with writing the new WC guidelines. The DIR folks greeted IGA as a breath of fresh air simply because we came armed with facts, straight talk, real world experience and we left our lobbyists at home.