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Letters | Learning from medical errors

Insurers need to view interpreters as medical necessity

Your front-page article “Airing medical mistakes” (April 10) details Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s courageous approach to fixing its service delivery problems. One of the problems noted was that of the patient whose proper transfer between facilities was hampered by the lack of ready availability of a medical interpreter.

Qualified medical interpreters could be available in all medical settings, as there is a supply of them ready to serve in this area. But the problem is that health insurance companies are not required to reimburse for these services. This is so despite federal and Massachusetts regulations stating that using a qualified medical interpreter is a patient’s right.

Medical errors and disparities in treatment can be both tragic and costly. Indeed, the National Conference of State Legislatures cited a 2009 report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies stating that health disparities for minorities increased national medical care expenditures by about $230 billion between 2003 and 2006.


Medical interpreting needs to be recognized for what it is — a medical necessity, thus meeting the criterion for health insurance reimbursement.

Mark Stewart

The writer is on the board of directors of Found in Translation, a nonprofit engaged in the training of medical interpreters.