The California Division of Workers’ Compensation's proposal to reduce payments for interpretation services provided in the same time slot is drawing criticism from payers, applicants’ attorneys and interpreters for different reasons.
The division on April 2 posted to its online forum a proposal that would set the fee schedule rate for interpretation services provided at a Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board hearing, or in a similar setting, at $255 for a half day and $448 for a full day.
The payment would be reduced by 25% for additional services provided in the same time slot. So a certified interpreter working two hearings during a half-day period would be entitled to $255 for the first hearing and $191.25 for the second.
Proposed rates for services provided by provisionally certified interpreters would be $141 for a half day and $232 for a full day, with the same 25% reduction for each additional hearing in the same time slot.
Attorney Kelly M. Carroll of workers' compensation defense firm Aghabala, Jin & Carroll, said she is concerned that the proposed reduction isn’t steep enough and could preserve what has become something of a “cottage industry” at some Worker’ Compensation Appeals Board offices.
Carroll said it’s not uncommon for interpreters to make multiple appearances during the same time slot. Under the proposed fee schedule, a certified interpreter could make $1,020 for a half day by working at five hearings. But, she said, it’s not possible for interpreters to provide adequate services on more than three or four cases during a half day.
She said the fee schedule should scale down to no pay after a certain number of appearances in the same time slot. This would ensure that interpreters are adequately paid while eliminating an incentive to overbook appointments.
“Create a pay scale that supports a fair wage for the services provided, but has a ceiling to discourage overbooking, which in the end, takes away from the services provided to the injured worker,” Carroll said.
Troy Kisiel, a principal at Chino Hills cost-containment firm Control Point Strategies, also recommended a more drastic reduction in pay when interpreters attend multiple proceedings during the same half-day time slot.
Kisiel said it’s not uncommon for an interpreter work for five to 10 minutes in one hearing, and move on to the next for another five to 10 minutes of work. He recommended that the division revise the fee schedule so the payment for services provided during subsequent hearings on the same day is based on the amount of time spent working.
Kisiel’s recommendation was that interpreters should get 75% of the fee schedule amount if they spend at least an hour on the subsequent proceedings. If they spend 30 to 60 minutes, payment should be half of the base rate. And it should fall to 25% for interpreters for less than 30 minutes.
Interpreter Mina Thorlaksson said in written comments submitted Wednesday that the proposed rate of $255 for a half day doesn’t seem adequate in parts of the state where there are few certified interpreters are available. And reducing that even further for interpreters who attend multiple proceedings during a half-day period is simply not fair.
“Why should they be entitled to a reduced rate only because only one local interpreter is available to appear at the WCAB?” Thorlaksson wrote.
Lorena Ortiz Schneider, president of California Workers' Compensation Interpreters Associates, said the division’s proposal to define a half day as 3.5 hours and a full day as eight hours is also problematic. Though it would work at the WCAB, where hearings are held from 8:30 a.m.-noon and from 1:30-5 p.m., it doesn’t work for other proceedings such as depositions that do not adhere to the same schedule.
She also said interpreters, like other workers in the state, are entitled to two rest periods and a lunch break, so the division should set define a full day as seven hours to account for this.
Schneider said CWCIA also takes exception to the division’s proposal that would allow employers to use provisionally certified interpreters after three failed attempts to schedule a certified interpreter.
Employers will quickly figure out which agencies they can call that won’t be able to provide a certified interpreter, she said. And at that point, employers can easily knock off the three phone calls needed and opt for a cheaper, provisionally certified interpreter.
Schneider said employers should be required to attempt to contact at least 10 certified interpreters.
Delores M. Righetti, president of the San Diego Certified Interpreters Network, also said the rules should be more restrictive on the use of provisionally certified interpreters. She said there is room for an exception that would allow provisionally certified interpreters to render services, but it shouldn’t be allowed simply because a broker or agency waited until the last minute to try to arrange for a certified interpreter.
Medical-legal exams are typically scheduled up to 60 days in advance, she said.
“There is absolutely no reason a certified interpreter cannot be scheduled within that time frame,” Righetti said. “We can also point out that treatment visits are also scheduled days or usually weeks in advance. Hence, there is no valid excuse for sending a provisionally certified person to do the job of a certified interpreter.”
The division closed the comment period on the proposed fee schedule rules at 5 p.m. Friday. The division will review the comments it received before starting the formal rule-making process, which will include another comment period and a public hearing.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article did not correctly identify Aghabala, Jin & Carroll in Sherman Oaks as a workers’ compensation defense firm.
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