Community News

Steel Leads House Effort to Expand Language Access to Telehealth

 
by: Michelle Steel
Published: April 8, 2024

 

WASHINGTON D.C....Reps. Michelle Steel (R-CA), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), and Susie Lee (D-NV) introduced the Expanding Language Access in Telehealth Act. The legislation seeks to improve access to telehealth services by directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop best practices to improve language access for patients with Limited English Proficiency, specifically when seeking behavioral health care via video-based and audio-only telehealth.

"As an immigrant who speaks English as my third language, I know how challenging it can be to navigate language barriers to get the services you need,” said Rep. Steel. “Most of my constituents primarily speak a language other than English at home. For them, and for millions like them across the country, this legislation will be critical in providing a pathway towards increased access to behavioral health care at a time when there is a mental health crisis in this country.”

“We’ve seen in recent years how valuable telehealth can be for expanding access to critical behavioral health treatment,” said Rep. Bilirakis. “However, it has become apparent that some seniors need additional support in order to fully utilize this tool in an effective manner.  It is not enough to simply provide access to treatment, which is why our bill goes a step further and ensures that providers and patients receive the training and support they need to take full advantage of this essential tool.”

“Over 300,000 Nevadans don’t speak English as their first language, and many of them rely on telehealth services to get the care they need,” said Rep. Lee. “We should be making it easier, not harder, for families to access this critical healthcare tool. I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to ensure Nevadans and Americans across the country have more tools to access quality health care – no matter where they live or what language they speak.”

“Telehealth is a powerful tool in closing health care gaps,” said Daniel Garza, President of the LIBRE Initiative. “To maximize the benefits of telehealth it should be available to all those who can and would use it regardless of how they wish to receive care. Individuals with Limited English proficiency are less likely to make use of telehealth services due to both language and tech related challenges especially as it relates to behavioral health. The Expanding Language Access in Telehealth Act helps continue removing barriers to quality and personalized care to improve outcomes for all Americans.”

“While access to behavioral health services via telehealth is a game changer, this crucial service is out of reach for many people with limited English proficiency,” said Kica Matos, president of the National Immigration Law Center. “By making telehealth more accessible for people with limited English proficiency, we can improve health outcomes in our communities. We are grateful to Rep. Michelle Steel for introducing Expanding Language Access in Telehealth Act—an important first step—and urge Congress to pass this bill without delay.”

The Expanding Language Access in Telehealth Act is identical to language included in the Better Mental Health Care, Lower-Cost Drugs and Extenders Act, which passed the Senate Finance Committee unanimously in December 2023. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will consider the legislation at a hearing on April 10, 2024.

Previously, Rep. Steel introduced the Supporting Patient Education and Knowledge (SPEAK) Act, which would require the Secretary of HHS to create a public-private task force and provide recommendations to improve language access in telehealth more broadly.

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