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Advocates Battle For Medical Interpreters

By Associated Press

February 19, 2008

Advocates for state Medicaid patients who need interpreters say they worry that cuts in Gov. M. Jodi Rell's budget proposal could jeopardize access to crucial services and information.

Health care case managers, social service providers and some legislators say they will urge Rell and the General Assembly to protect funding for the translation service, which helps Medicaid patients with limited proficiency in English.

Although many of these patients are native Spanish speakers, a coalition advocating for the translators said that about 22,000 patients statewide who speak a total of 65 languages need the service.

Rell's budget proposal recommends eliminating $4.7 million that had been set aside for the translation services in the 2008-09 budget, which the General Assembly approved last year.

Rell spokesman Chris Cooper said the governor believes that the $1.2 million allocated for Medicaid interpreters in the current fiscal year is enough to fund the services to July 1, 2009.

He added that Rell would be willing to consider more dollars for the program in the future.

The budget proposal has upset many people who say that the translation services are crucial.

"This is not an issue of a privilege," said Fernando Betancourt, executive director of the state's Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission. "This is a human right."

Among the critics of Rell's proposal are several Democratic lawmakers, whose party controls the General Assembly. They say that they will push to keep the money in the budget.

"We have to stop dividing ourselves between those who were born here and those who weren't," said state Rep. Demetrios S. Giannaros, D-Farmington.

Lawmakers said that investing in interpreters is important because it allows patients to have direct communication with health care professionals.

David Dearborn, a spokesman for the state Department of Social Services, said that the agency will stretch the $1.2 million as far as possible if the full $4.7 million is not allocated.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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