How to Use Language Services to Comply with Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act

Are you familiar with your responsibilities under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act? As a company operating in the United States, you need to understand them and see where you must take action.

The Affordable Care Act is a healthcare reform law passed in 2010 by President Barack Obama, and this specific section has been reformed over the years. All healthcare entities must understand and comply with this Act; Section 1557 touches on a patient’s rights in relation to the use of language services.

What Does Section 1557 Have to Do with Translation Services?

What does the Affordable Care Act have to do with translation services? That’s where Section 1557 comes in. Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act “prohibits discrimination (in the area of patient care) based on race, color, national origin, sex, or disability.” This includes national origin discrimination against people who have limited English proficiency. (LEP) This section was amended in 2022 to include that people with LEP must be provided with “oral and written language services free of charge and in an accurate and timely fashion.”

In short, Section 1557 means that people who do not speak English well or as their first language must receive, free of charge, interpretation and translation services during their visit to overcome the language barrier and provide the best possible care. Interpretation and other language services can be provided in-person or remotely with Zoom interpretation.

Section 1557 clearly states that while there are exceptions, using a staff member who is conversationally fluent in another language or requiring an adult or a minor accompanying the LEP individual to interpret is a violation of their rights. That is a recognition that not everyone can provide language interpretation services and that those services require training and experience in addition to managing the appropriate vocabulary.

Does Section 1557 Require In-Person or Virtual Interpretation Services?

While Section 1557 highlights a few qualifying situations in which a professional interpreter does not need to be called in, it is in the best interest of all medical organizations to have an established plan for dealing with LEP individuals promptly. In some cases, like scheduled appointments, this may mean having a professional interpreter come on-site to provide services. But in many cases, like a late-night ER visit, this can also mean using phone interpretation or Zoom interpretation services.

Who does Section 1557 apply to?

  • Doctors, dentists, and other medical practitioners
  • Urgent Care
  • Hospitals
  • Any program that receives federal grant funds from Health Resources and Services Administration
  • Organizations that participate in Medicare and Medicaid
  • Programs and activities that receive funds from the Department of Health and Human Services
  • Telehealth services
  • Health insurance marketplaces

How to comply with Section 1557

Compliance with Section 1557 means more than having a professional translator ready.

Entities must have either:

  • People on staff who are fluent in other languages and meet the other requirements for interpretation or translation services, which include adhering to ethical principles and privacy standards. Section 1557 clearly states that just because a staff member can speak another language does not mean they meet the other requirement needed to provide language assistance.
  • A language services company on retainer can provide qualified and professional translators and interpreters.

Machine translation is allowed as long as all translations have been proofed or quality-checked by a qualified human professional translator. A raw, untouched AI translation is not considered compliant with Section 1557 and does not work in situations where American Sign Language interpretation is needed.

Entities must also have posted notices in multiple languages informing patients of their right to interpretation services in at least the top 15 languages of your given location, posted on the website, and in any and all physical locations. This notice must also be included in “significant publications and communications targeted to the public. The Department of Health and Human Services has created a table displaying each state’s top 15 languages spoken by LEP individuals. Organizations must also train staff to understand what Section 1557 is and patients’ rights and have a policy and process in place for calling in interpretation services as needed.

Does Section 1557 Mandate Certified Translation Services?

No, Section 1557 does not mandate that these translation services must be certified translations. While there are instances where certified translation services may be necessary, such as when dealing with birth certificates, court transcripts, immigration papers, or government agencies, it is not the standard translation service that must be offered to patients.

However, working with a professional translation company can help your organization understand and navigate when certified translation services are necessary. Only certain types of documents translated need to be certified translations.

The Benefits of Working with Professional Translators to Comply with Section 1557

Having a contract in place with a professional language service provider is the best and easiest way to ensure you have the language assistance and solutions you need when you need them.

  • Having experienced interpreters on demand means you can weather staff turnovers and unexpected late-night visits and provide the best possible customer service to every patient that comes in your door.
  • A professional translation service guarantees both fluency in different languages and subject matter expertise. Medical conversations can quickly get technical and involve specific technical language or phrases that may not be common in everyday conversation.
  • Having an interpreter who is a subject matter expert in the necessary field means your patients get the information they need from someone who understands the subject. A language service provider also ensures that all of your translators and interpreters abide by the code of ethics and client confidentiality, even going so far as to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Translation companies vet and classify their professional translators and interpreters according to expertise, training, and years of experience.
  • Professional translation companies understand when certified translation services, such as birth certificates, adoption decrees, or other official legal documents, are necessary.
  • Look for a language services company with phone interpretation services available 24/7. Phone interpretation brings immediate support in multiple languages without the need for planning. While many medical appointments are scheduled and routine, there are many times when an emergency visit or a late-night phone call to Urgent Care happens. Your organization will have peace of mind knowing that you have reliable interpretation services even at 3 am on a Tuesday.

The easiest way to comply with Section 1557 is by partnering with the right translation services company. A professional interpretation and translation company has the team and the expertise to make compliance smooth, and they will take care of all the language services needed. A few qualifiers to look for include the following:

  • Positive reviews. Any language service provider that has done an excellent job has positive reviews from happy clients. These should be available on the website or by simply searching the internet.
  • Ask for references. It is a common practice to ask language companies for other companies and organizations that use their services. Contact them and learn about their experience, which will give the added benefit of seeing how others use language services in their operations.
  • Translators and interpreters with subject matter expertise. It’s not enough to be fluent in a language; working in the medical space requires a deep understanding of the medical terms that comes with it. Just because an interpreter speaks Spanish does not mean they’re qualified to translate medical conversations.

Complying with Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act can seem confusing and overwhelming – but it doesn’t have to be. Working with a qualified language service provider makes the confusion simple.

JR Language is a language services company with years of experience helping healthcare organizations with multilingual communications. Contact us for a quote today— we’d love to learn about your needs and help you comply with regulations.

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