Medical facilities providing telehealth services are now required to provide patients with a translator if they have limited English proficiency or if they are hard of hearing or deaf. (Getty Images)
A new law signed by Gov. Chris Sununu last Friday requires translation services be made available at telehealth appointments for limited English proficiency speakers and deaf or hard of hearing Granite Staters.
Under the new law, House Bill 1390, people who are deaf or hard of hearing could have an American Sign Language interpreter present at doctor’s appointments. Limited English proficiency speakers would receive interpreter services in their native language.
These services were already required through federal law for in-person doctor’s appointments in New Hampshire, but telehealth visits have increased significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Medicare outpatient visits through telehealth increased from 840,000 in 2019 to 52.7 million in 2020, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report. The bill, which passed the House Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee 19-0, was a Democratic-led effort sponsored by Rep. Megan Murray, an Amherst Democrat.
During the bill’s March 18 hearing in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Sen. Kevin Avard, a Nashua Republican, voiced concern over whether the bill would limit smaller medical practices from providing service. But Murray replied that that was unlikely due to the federal government already requiring in-person translation services.
LanguageLine Solutions, one interpreter service referenced during the committee hearing, charges $3.95/minute for audio calls and $4.95/minute for video calls, according to its website. That means a half-hour telehealth appointment would cost around $148, or $297 for an hour-long appointment; these costs can be paid by doctor’s offices or insurance agencies.
Telehealth platforms have already anticipated the need for translation services. Ten telehealth platforms now offer interpreter services or have instructions on how to include an interpreter at virtual appointments, according to Jonathan Ballard, MD, a medical officer with the Department of Health and Human Services.
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