Collection of Language Data and Services Provided by Health Plans

The objective of this study 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 were conducted in 2003, 2006 and 2008. Participants included health plans offering commercial, Medicaid, and/or Medicare Advantage products; 123 health plans responded to the 2008 survey, including 65 commercial (50%), 46 Medicaid (53%), and 12 Medicare plans (44%), representing a total enrollment of 133.8 million Americans.

Key Findings:

  • In 2008, 74 percent of health plans collected language data (commercial 60%, Medicaid 89.1%, Medicare 91.7%); 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.

Key stakeholders agree better data on patients’ language are needed to effectively address language-related barriers to timely, high quality health care.