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Am J Manag Care. 2011 Dec 1;17(12):e479-87.

Collection of language data and services provided by health plans.

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  • 1David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA.



Key stakeholders agree better data on patients' language are needed to effectively address language-related barriers to timely, highquality healthcare. Our objective was to describe health plan efforts to collect language data from its members, provide language services, and improve the provision of culturally and linguistically appropriate services (CLAS).


National surveys in 2003, 2006, and 2008.


Surveys were administered to health plans offering commercial, Medicaid, and/or Medicare Advantage products.


123 health plans responded to the 2008 survey (50% response rate), including 65 commercial (50%), 46 Medicaid (53%), and 12 Medicare plans (44%), representing a total enrollment of 133.8 million Americans. In 2008, 74.0% of health plans collected language data (commercial 60.0%, Medicaid 89.1%, Medicare 91.7%), which is an increase for each plan type since 2003. Health plans used direct and indirect collection methods. Nearly all health plans reported offering language services, the most common being telephonic interpreting, multilingual member materials, and access to bilingual providers. A variety of strategies for improving CLAS were cited by health plans, including improving health plan communication materials, health literacy initiatives for members, and targeted training for providers and staff.


Health plans have made substantial progress in the collection of language data and many are offering options for language services. With the rapid growth in Medicaid participation and newly insured individuals anticipated under the Affordable Care Act, health plans may be uniquely positioned to implement and test interventions that aim to improve appropriate utilization of language services by providers and patients.

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