IGA opposes the DIR Proposal
We oppose the proposed Interpreter Fee Schedule for a number of compelling reasons; these are the three issues that we consider most egregious:
- The proposed fee schedule sets an unworkable price ceiling and constitutes a serious reduction in what an individual interpreter can earn.
The removal of the current §9795.3 language– “interpreter fees shall be billed and paid at the greater of the following (i) at the rate for one-half day or one full day as set forth in the Superior Court fee schedule … or (ii) at the market rate”—This omission makes the proposed fee schedule and the rates included essentially an unworkable ceiling for what independent interpreters are paid for their services.
While we understand the cost containment goals of the state’s insurance industry, the proposed changes would make it impossible for Language Service Providers (LSP’s) to cover their overhead, lien expenses and profit and still pay interpreters reasonable fees. The LSP’s would be forced to either greatly reduce what they pay interpreters or go out of business. If the objective of the proposed fee schedule is to do away with LSP’s entirely and replace them with an insurance industry Medical Provider Network (MPN) system of their own making, then the impact on the quality and availability of interpreting services for injured workers would be catastrophic. The insurance companies would own and control middlemen chosen by them to be in their MPN system. As a result, independent certified and registered interpreters would be forced to find work elsewhere.
Under this proposal, the insurance companies themselves would then be empowered to unilaterally “provisionally” certify bilingual individuals without proof of expertise, ethics or ability, simply those who are willing to work for a rock bottom salary. How could such a change possibly serve the injured worker or ensure fairness in the Workers’ Comp system? What would happen to trained, state certified independent interpreters? How could it possibly serve anyone other than a shortsighted insurance industry? Sure, there might be some cost containment but only in the short term and at the cost of crashing the system.
We recommend setting a floor for the fees paid to the individual interpreters on site, doing the work.
The LSP overhead can theen be negotiated as an add-on premium to cover their costs and profit and so ensure that all the parties are operating on a level playing field. Lien costs can be pre-negotiated and so can be addressed in a similar manner. This is a way for service providers and insurance companies to attain some control in the process and reduce uncertainty as well as litigation costs. We see this approach as one that would bring about cost savings by increasing efficiencies of service delivery rather than cutting the quality of service.
- It proposes to put the qualification of judicial and medical interpreters in the hands of hearing officers, claims adjusters and doctors:
“(j) “Provisionally certified interpreter for hearings and depositions” means an individual who a hearing officer has determined is qualified to perform interpreter services at a hearing or deposition, who has met all the requirements set forth in section 9931. (k) “Provisionally certified interpreter for medical treatment appointments and medical-legal exams” means an individual who a physician has determined is qualified to perform interpreter services at a medical treatment appointment or medical-legal exam, who has met all the requirements set forth in section 9932.”
California does not suffer from any broad shortage of certified and registered interpreters, and empowering hearing officers, insurance adjusters or medical doctors to determine “provisional” certifications would be the wrong way to address the problem if it did exist.
The state judicial system has spent years and large sums of money developing and refining the court interpreter certification and registration system. Interpreters study, practice and train for years to reach the level of competency needed to pass the stringent court interpreting exam. Interpreters also undergo 30 hours of continuing education every 24 months and pay yearly fees to maintain their certification in this state.
This proposal would short cut that whole process with only the requirement that an effort be made to contact three state certified professionals. How that seemingly arbitrary requirement could be enforced or verified is not addressed. Nor does this proposed change address how the determination of competence in interpretation can possibly be made on the spot by anyone, least of all someone – hearing officer, doctor or claims adjuster– who may have no language training at all.
- It proposes working conditions and definitions that are generally unworkable:
“(d) “Full-day” means services performed which exceed one-half day, up to 8 hours. (e) “Half-day” means: (1) All or any part of a morning or afternoon session, when appearing at any Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board hearing, day-time arbitration, or (2) When appearing at a deposition, all or any part of 3.5 hours, or (3) When appearing at an evening arbitration, all or any part of 3 hours.” §9930. Definitions.
We strongly recommend setting feasible work conditions that abide by the 3.0-hour half-day and 6.0-hour full-day industry standard that has been established as workable and efficient in Southern California.
While the 3.5-hour half-day may be feasible when interpreters work at a fixed location, like WCAB trials and hearings, the typical work of interpreters has us travelling from one appointment in the morning to another appointment in the afternoon. Therefore, at least for those appointments, including deposition preps, depositions, C&R reviews, transcript reviews, IMEs, QMEs, AMEs, and the like, the industry minimum of the 3.0-hour half-day and 6.0-hour standard full-day must apply.
The suggestion of an 8 hour standard for the interpreters’ work day doesn’t acknowledge the fact that interpreters in the field are not working in teams as they do in Superior Court. Team interpreting (2 interpreters taking turns every 20 minutes) has become an industry standard based on research that proves that continuous interpreting can be grueling exhausting work. In the WC system, team interpreting is at this point not feasible but neither is the notion of an 8-hour interpreting day.
Our intention here is to work with the DIR, to help refine and improve the effort to address waste in the WC system and improve the fairness and efficiency of this process. We hope that these comments are seen in that light and can help focus your efforts.