Doing Montana Justice

Massachusetts Emergency Room Interpreter Bill Signed into Law


April 26, 2000

Thanks to the hard work of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, the English Plus Coalition, the BABEL III Coalition, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Health Care for All, the Massachusetts Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, the Emergency Room Interpreter Bill. The following is a description of the bill, implementation and a special thanks to Rep Jarett Barrios.

Relevant Links
· Full Text of Law
· Health Care for All
· Rep. Jarrett Barrios
· Opposition to earlier version of bill from Mass. Medical Society


The following description was prepared by Ernest Winsor of MLRI - reachable if you need more at:

H. 4917, the "Emergency Room Interpreter Bill," was signed into law (as Chapter 66 of the Acts of 2000) by Governor Cellucci on April 14, 2000.

What Does It Do?
The new law requires that all hospitals, public or private, which provide acute care, either in emergency rooms or in acute psychiatric services, when treating non-English speakers, must use competent interpreter services. Hospital managers must use reasonable judgment in setting up their interpreter systems, based on the volume and diversity of the language groups they serve. The Departments of Public Health and Mental Health, in licensing or re-licensing these hospitals, are to consider how well they carry out these mandates.

There are also provisions requiring that all state payers for medical care (e.g., Medicaid) must reimburse hospitals for their reasonable interpreter costs.

Any person who is denied appropriate health care because a hospital failed to use reasonable judgment in setting up its interpreter system may sue for a court order and/or damages and a reasonable attorney's fee; and the Attorney General is given power to bring action against a hospital when informed by DPH or DMH that the hospital is "substantially failing to comply with applicable interpreter requirements."

When Does It Go into Effect?
July 1, 2001 -- so all the hospitals which currently do not meet these requirements have more than a year to get ready.

Who to Thank?
Rep. Jarrett Barrios (State House 130, 02133, 617-722-2130). Any law that gets passed after a dozen years of work had the helping hands of hundreds of people. But Jarrett Barrios, as the chief sponsor in the House, stands out for the time, intelligence, charm, drive and energy which he brought to this project.


The bill is organized into 6 SECTIONS, as follows:

SECTION 1 amends the public health laws by inserting a new section which --

(a) defines "Non-English speaker" and "Competent interpreter services";

(b) sets forth the mandate that acute-care hospitals provide competent interpreter services in their emergency rooms and requires managers to use reasonable judgment in setting up the mix of full time, on-call, and electronic interpreting;

(c) states that a person's getting such interpreter services is not to be deemed a "public benefit" for immigration status purposes;

(d) makes compliance with this mandate a requirement of licensing/re-licensing and gives the DPH authority to issue implementing reglations; and

(e) gives any aggrieved non-English speaking patient, or the Attorney General, a right of action in court for a hospital's failure to use reasonable judgment in complying with the mandate.

SECTIONS 2, 3 and 4 amend various parts of the DHCFP statute to assure that hospitals get reimbursed by state insurers (mainly Medicaid) for the "reasonable cost of providing competent interpreter services" in accord with the mandates in SECTIONS 1 and 5.

SECTION 5 amends the mental health statute to insert a new section requiring competent interpreter services in hospitals providing "acute psychiatric services" in situations where "an appropriate bilingual clinician is not available." (See subsection (b).) The organization and wording is otherwise the same as set forth for emergency rooms, in SECTION 1.

SECTION 6 provides that the new law will take effect on July 1, 2001 -- thereby giving affected hospitals a year to get ready.


© 1999-2020 Pro Bono Net. All rights reserved.