DWC Proposed Interpreter Fee Regulations Posted For Public Comment

The Division of Workers’ Compensation has posted proposed revisions to the California Code of Regulations governing interpreter fees and qualifications.

The proposed regulations would require higher standards for interpreters to qualify for full reimbursement rates. Much like medical billing, procedure codes would attach to interpreting invoices and could support greater reimbursement rates depending on the qualifications of the individual interpreter. Such requirements are designed to encourage interpreters to enhance their skill set by obtaining certifications from various organizations, including the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters, the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters, and recognition from the California State Personnel Board.

Importantly, controversies arising out of interpreter billings would now be subject to Independent Bill Review (IBR) to reduce litigation and liens.

Billing rates and definitions of minimum billing for full day, half day, and evening court and deposition appearances are specified. Billable travel time is eliminated. There is a premium for languages other than Spanish. The fee schedule is derived from the federal court rates. The proposed fees for WCAB appearances is slightly higher than what is being currently regularly charged by interpreters but medical treatment fees are based on time and is less than what we ordinarily see being charged by interpreting companies.

Provisionally qualified interpreters are much more tightly regulated than interpreters certified through the State Personnel Board. For WCAB hearings, a WCJ would have to make findings on the record regarding the qualifications of any provisionally qualified interpreter, even by agreement of the parties. Such findings would have to include the reasons why a certified interpreter was not available and the parties’ efforts to obtain one. As a practical matter it is likely that most WCAB judges are not going to want to make these findings so the parties are going to be strongly encouraged to always use a certified interpreter at all WCAB appearances and depositions.

Provisionally qualified interpreters for medical treatment appointments must also meet multiple new requirements, including that the physician determine that the interpreter is sufficiently skilled and, most relevantly, that the interpreter was present with prior consent of the claims administrator. This will undoubtedly lead to a lot of phone calls and emails to claims professionals from medical treatment interpreters asking for consent to provide services leading up to and on the day of a medical appointment.

Further clarification is provided as to which party is responsible for providing an interpreter. For hearings and depositions it is the party producing the witness. For medical-legal exams it is the claims administrator. For medical treatment appointments it depends whether there is an MPN. If so, the MPN interpreters would provide services through the claims administrator. If treatment is being provided outside an MPN the injured worker may choose any qualified interpreter and must notify the claims administrator to make arrangements.

What this means for you

Public comments regarding the regulations are encouraged and may be submitted by email only to dwcforums@dir.ca.gov .

The text of the proposed regulations is on the DWC website here.

All public comments must be submitted by Thursday, May 7, 2015.

GMK will provide further information regarding the new interpreter fee regulations when they are formally adopted.