February 10, 2016

Mike Adelberg: CMS' Language Translation Requirements Could Have Unintended Consequences for Dental Plans

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently finalized a policy requiring all plans that participate in the federal exchanges to translate their “taglines” and numerous plan materials into the top 15 languages spoken in the state in which they operate. The “meaningful access” language provision has drawn concern from the National Association of Dental Plans (NADP), which has argued that complying with the law will be highly expensive and may result in higher premiums for patients, according to an article in Inside Health Policy. NADP leaders have suggested that the translation requirements—which apply to a host of official forms and documents—should only apply to website content or should be limited to states where more than 1 percent of the population speaks another language and lacks English proficiency. NADP researchers also produced data suggesting that the top 15 threshold—while financially burdensome—is unlikely to benefit many patients, as few states have ESL constituents that exceed 1 percent of the total population. Mike Adelberg, senior director for FaegreBD Consulting, also expressed concerns with the new rules.

“The goal [of the meaningful access requirements] is to assure that ESL populations can access and navigate exchange plans,” Adelberg said. “The requirements may be familiar to the health plans already in federal health programs. But they could pose some challenges for dental plans that have not previously built translation capacities. CMS' heart is in the right in the place, but the top 15 rule produces disparate results between large, diverse states and small, non-diverse states. The expense of compliance will be disproportionate on small health plans and dental plans in small states." 

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