Congressman Jimmy Gomez Leads Letter to Expand Medicare Language Access

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Washington, May 14, 2019 | comments

Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jimmy Gomez (CA-34) led a letter signed by 62 of his House colleagues to the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), urging CMS to increase the number of languages used in Medicare’s educational and enrollment materials.

CMS already makes Medicare documents and materials available in both English and Spanish, but America’s population is both aging and diversifying. The letter aims to ensure that all older Americans have access to clear, unbiased information about the Medicare program. To that end, the letter urges CMS to begin a deliberate process of translation to make key educational and enrollment materials available in additional languages.

“No one should have to encounter language barriers when pursuing information about their health and well-being, particularly in a country as culturally and ethnically diverse as the United States,” said Congressman Gomez. “With nearly 10,000 Americans becoming eligible for Medicare every day – and nearly 350 languages spoken across the country – we have a collective responsibility to provide clear access to the materials necessary to use this critical federal program. Expanding language access not only helps modernize Medicare, but it also underscores the concept that health care must be available to all who call our country home.”

“We thank Congressman Gomez and his colleagues for calling on CMS to reduce language barriers, which can create serious financial, legal, and health implications for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander individuals and families,” said Kathy Ko Chin, President and CEO of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum. “Medicare materials only come in two languages: English and Spanish. This leaves out the millions who speak some of the most commonly spoken languages nationwide, including Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean. Ensuring all Americans have meaningful access to Medicare materials is a necessary step toward reducing heath disparities.”

“For the millions of beneficiaries who speak a language other than English or Spanish, obtaining information on Medicare coverage in additional languages is not only an essential step toward advancing health equity – it’s good policy,” said Allyson Y. Schwartz, President and CEO of the Better Medicare Alliance (BMA). “BMA applauds Congressman Gomez for his leadership in increasing language access in Medicare education and outreach materials and appreciates the 62 Members of Congress who joined him by signing onto this important letter. This meaningful action will enable millions of beneficiaries to better understand and act on the choices they have in Medicare coverage and benefits.”

A signed PDF copy of the letter – including a list of supporters – can be found HERE.

Dear Administrator Verma,

We strongly believe that all of our constituents should have access to accurate, accessible, and comprehensive information about Medicare. To that end, we urge the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to increase the number of languages used in educational and enrollment materials available to Medicare-eligible individuals.

The number of Americans speaking a language other than English at home continues to increase, growing from roughly 23 million in 1980 to almost 60 million in 2010, a 158% increase, according to American Community Survey data. The U.S. Census also estimates that as recently as 2017, over 10 million individuals over age 60 speak a language other than English at home, with almost 6 million speaking English less than “very well.” In total, nearly 350 languages are spoken in U.S. homes.

CMS should ensure that all Medicare-eligible individuals and beneficiaries have access to unbiased and complete information on their Medicare options, in order to support a more seamless and informed decision-making and enrollment process. As our linguistic diversity increases, Medicare should therefore improve the accessibility of its educational and enrollment materials for all beneficiaries through translation of key materials into additional languages, beyond English and Spanish.

While CMS is to be lauded for making Medicare documents and materials available in both English and Spanish, CMS should specifically consider translating commonly used Medicare documents and materials into additional languages, including the “Medicare and You” handbook, Medicare.gov and Plan Finder websites, and the “Understanding Medicare Advantage Plans” booklet. We encourage CMS to begin the implementation of a deliberate process for additional language translation of educational and outreach materials, as feasible and appropriate.

With more than 10,000 individuals becoming eligible for Medicare every day, we appreciate your commitment to ensuring that CMS materials and information are accessible to all Medicare beneficiaries.  Thank you for your attention to this matter, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Jimmy Gomez (CA-34)
Member of Congress

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