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Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill Sunday that would have established a system for delivering and reimbursing face-to-face interpretation at doctors offices and hospitals.

Assembly Bill 1263, introduced by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles), called on the state to draw down federal dollars to create a program called CommuniCal. It would have certified and registered medical interpreters and paid them through Medi-Cal.

Speak City Heights

Currently, patients often get interpretation over the phone or through family members and friends. There is no state registry or certification process to vet professional interpreters.

City Heights residents have been advocating for the bill for a year, sharing stories of medical mishaps and wrong diagnoses caused by communication barriers. They joined AFSCME union organizers at a protest at the UC San Diego Medical Center in July.

“At the [UC San Diego] Shiley Eye Center, we’ve heard that patients have been told not to schedule appointments if they don’t have interpreters,” said Christina Griffin, a United Domestic Workers of America organizer working on AFSCME’s Interpreting for California campaign. “We’ve also heard of procedures happening without the consent or the full understanding of the patient – you know, someone signing a paper but not knowing what they’re signing. And also people under the age of 18, and in some circumstances younger than teenage age, being used as interpreters.”

In his veto message, Brown said, “I don’t believe it would be wise to introduce yet another complex element” to the state’s rollout of the Affordable Care Act, which includes a new health insurance exchange and a Medi-Cal expansion.

Megan Burks

Megan Burks is a reporter for Speak City Heights, a media project of Voice of San Diego, KPBS, Media Arts Center and The AjA Project. You can contact her...

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