Fighting the Good Fight: Lawsuit Filed Against Insurance Company for Denying Accessible Services to Deaf Citizens
Posted Sep 01 2011 6:53pm
Suing for Equity in Services: Early last month in Florida, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Inc., together with the National Association of the Deaf, filed a lawsuit seeking accessible medical services for Deaf citizens in the state. The lawsuit charges Humana Insurance and the Florida Department of Financial Services with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Humana providers allegedly refused to provide ASL interpreters for Deaf patients. Humana also refused to accept VRS calls from Deaf members.
A National Issue: Although this lawsuit was filed in Florida, the issue is a national one and the results will carry implications across the country. Very few insurance companies reimburse providers for the cost of interpreters during appointments and very few providers willingly pay for interpreters. Deaf consumers are left with few options for accessible medical and mental health services. It is also typical for insurance companies to give Deaf members a list of in-network providers who claim to be fluent in ASL, but who, in reality, have often taken only one or two ASL classes and have minimal or no knowledge of ASL and Deaf culture. When Deaf consumers voice complaints, both the insurance company and the providers point fingers at each other, refusing to take responsibility.
Best Solution: So, what is the ideal solution for meeting Deaf consumers’ needs? We offer the following guidelines to insurance companies:
1. When it’s an option, make it possible for the Deaf person to see a Deaf provider fluent in ASL. This should be a priority and the preferred standard of care over matching the Deaf consumer with a hearing therapist who signs or a hearing therapist and an interpreter. If this means authorizing out-of-network services, do it. Research shows that psychotherapy sessions and certain types of medical consultations can be conducted successfully using videophones and webcams. Studies also show that Deaf people prefer working with Deaf therapists and that utilizing interpreters in psychotherapy sessions not the best option.
2. Hire a consultant to evaluate in-network providers’ ASL skills. Require hearing providers to hold national sign language interpreting certification from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) or meet an advanced level of ASL proficiency. If providers fail to meet this standard, remove them from the list of providers who are qualified to work with Deaf consumers.
3. Require in-network providers to provide ASL interpreters, period. If they refuse, take them off the provider list.