IGA Looks At Workers’ Comp Legislation SB863

SB863 is an ambitious set of reforms to the CA Workers Comp system that has been passed into law and is designed to implement broad reductions in the direct costs to Insurance Carriers. The DIR (Department of Industrial Relations), charged with implementing the reforms, is looking for ways to cut Workers Comp costs for the insurance companies. The insurance lobby is therefore very involved in guiding the DIR’s activities to optimize cost cutting. As interpreters, we have seen an example of these recent cost cutting practices in the implementing of Preferred Provider Networks (PPN/MPN) for medical interpreting services. The result has been a spike in assignments that are filled by large out of state agencies, a consequent increase in the use of non-certified interpreters and mounting pressure on individual interpreters to lower rates or compromise working conditions. And the quality of interpreting services has suffered…In addition to the insurance lobby, other well-funded and well-organized advocacy groups are vying to influence the DIR in setting the new rules. Trial lawyers, medical providers, labor unions, employers and the Interpreting Agencies (LSPs: Language Service Providers) are very much in the mix. However, the insurance lobby seems to be the entity to which the DIR addresses most of their findings and reports:

Interpreters’ business model: SB 863 reforms may bring about a change to the workers’ compensation interpreters’ business model. With the reform in place, unless an interpreter is certified (and many are not), the claims administrators (instead of applicant attorneys and doctors) will be selecting the interpreter. If the claims administrator has not pre-approved a non-certified interpreter in writing, payment for the services is not required. As a result, it is likely be that the market will shift away from language service providers that rely on assignments from doctors and attorneys toward larger and more cost-efficient language service providers selected by claims administrators.”  [Page 20. DIR Document “SB 863:Assessment of Workers’CompensationReformsJuly17,2014”]

The rulemaking referred to here is a sweetheart deal for the insurance lobby, wherein insurance administrators will be empowered to certify non-certified interpreters and to force out of business smaller in-state LSP’s not in their preferred networks. Whereas, the more urgent issue of the rampant use non-certified interpreters in lieu of available certified interpreters goes unaddressed. The upcoming changes to the Interpreter Fee Schedule, already sorely out of date in terms of rates and out of line with real working conditions, are likely to make matters worse for independents:

 “Interpreter Fee Schedule: DWC is currently waiting for the study and recommendations to be finalized by the Berkeley Research Group. The interpreter fee schedule is separate from the rulemaking regarding the interpreter certification process that is already in effect. The current interpreter fee schedule (8 CCR section 9795.3) provides that for appeals board hearings, arbitration, or deposition, the fee is the greater of a half or full day at Superior Court rate or market rate. For all other events, the fee is $11.25 per quarter hour with two-hour minimum or market rate. Having a fee schedule that is not tied to “market rate” should reduce costs by reducing disputes and allowing the parties to utilize IBR to resolve fee disputes instead of filing liens.” [Page 25. DIR Document “SB 863: Assessment of Workers’ Compensation Reforms July 17, 2014”]

As bad as fees, practices and conditions have gotten for interpreters in Workers Comp, they are about to get worse. Even though interpreter rates have not increased in many years, the insurance lobby is looking for cost savings in this area. The “market rate” provision has been the only aspect of the current fee schedule that gives independent interpreters a fighting chance. All interpreters are affected by this Workers Comp rulemaking. Whether we work in WC rarely or not at all, this proposed rulemaking and the changes in rates and working conditions will affect our profession and will affect all interpreters, in California and soon nationally. JOIN TTIG… Help us launch a grassroots campaign for fairness, write to Sacramento and your State representatives, petition the DIR, lobby the DIR Commission. As independent interpreters, we need to unite and together make our voices heard at the Berkeley Research Group, at the DIR, both with the DWC bureaucracy and among the commissioners, and with our lawmakers in Sacramento. At present, we are conspicuously absent in the mix of Workers Comp stakeholders and advocacy groups. Many hundreds of interpreters work in the Workers Comp  area daily: Medical appointments, MedLegal Exams, Preps, Depos, Hearings, Trials, Conferences, Transcript Reviews, C&R’s, etc. These interactions represent a tremendous amount of the interpreting work across the state. It is therefore in our interest as professionals and in the interest of the people for whom we interpret that our certifications, working conditions and level of skill be protected. We must not stand by while non-certified interpreters are routinely hired to do the work of certified interpreters. How to make the upcoming DIR Fee Schedule more fair and representative? Acknowledge real world competitive rates and real world working conditions… No more gouging newer interpreters with $135/3.5 hr half days and $65/preps. Affirm the 24-hour cancellation policy and 3.0 hour half-day/6.0 hour full-day schedule that independent interpreters need to make ends meet. Expand the fees schedule, add specific rates for deposition appearances, trial/hearing appearances and outlier situations (WCAB multiple encounters as well as Medical Office multiple encounters). Enforce the use of certified, credentialed interpreters for all encounters including depo preps, C&R’s and transcript reviews, according to existing statutes. Do away with PPN/MPN lowball pricing for medical appointments that foment cutting corners and the use of non-certified interpreters. Since the insurance carriers and law firms prefer to book interpreters through LSPs, add a premium to the interpreting fees schedule to cover LSP’s profit and overhead. Stop using the LSPs as a way to gouge independent interpreters and squeeze down our rates. The services LSPs provide benefit the insurers, the law firms and medical practices more that the independent interpreter.

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