Summary of State Law Requirements Addressing Language Needs in Health Care

Executive Summary

A 50-state survey of state laws and regulations related to addressing language access for limited English proficient (LEP) individuals in health care services.

In December 2005, the National Health Law Program updated its report Summary of State Law Requirements Addressing Language Needs in Health Care. The report provides a state-by-state listing of health laws that were enacted to protect the needs of limited English proficient (LEP) persons. Laws enacted for this specific purpose recognize the increasing need to provide greater access to our health care system for LEP persons.

During the fall and winter of 2005, NHeLP conducted a fifty-state survey examining the nature and extent of these laws specifically as they apply to women’s health.

The results of the survey are summarized, in brief, as follows: California has addressed the issue most frequently having enacted ten laws, followed by Massachusetts with five. States from among all regions of the country have addressed language services in this area,
including Connecticut, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada and Oregon. In all, 19 states have enacted one or more laws that address women’s health services for LEP individuals: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana,
Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.


As the chart below shows, these laws reflect several different interests, broadly stated as:
  • Consent form legislation: These laws are aimed at providing detailed information on sterilization procedures, abortions and other reproductive health procedures and protecting a woman’s right to informed consent in languages other than English. There are four states with this type of legislation: California, Nevada, Ohio and Oregon.
  • Family planning legislation: These laws are directed at providing information on family planning services in languages other than English. There are two states with this type of legislation: California and Oregon.
  • AIDS education legislation: These laws are aimed at educating individuals about the causes and effects of preventable viruses and diseases such as AIDS and other STDs in languages other than English. There are five states with this type of legislation: California, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana and Michigan.
  • Cancer treatment/reproductive organ health options legislation: These laws seek to ensure that women are made aware of self-detection practices and advising women on all of the cancer treatment options and reproductive organ health options available to them in languages other than English. There are four states with this type of legislation: California, Connecticut, Illinois and Massachusetts.
  • Maternal/infant health information legislation: These laws cover the spectrum of needs applicable to pregnant women and new mothers, including education on neonatal care, the importance of newborn health screenings, and substance abuse prevention. There are four states with this type of legislation: California, Massachusetts, Missouri and Nevada.
  • Right to know legislation: These laws typically require providers to inform pregnant women seeking an abortion about adoption, the state’s opposition to the procedure, the supposed detrimental psychological effects of abortion, fetal development at two-week intervals with, in some instances, ultra-sound images.1 These laws often impose these requirements far beyond the scope of what is required of health providers for other procedures for the purposes of deterring or interfering with women’s decision to obtain abortions and typically are extremely misleading.2 Ironically, these laws include much lower thresholds triggering language access requirements than for other health services. Some states, for example, require this information to be published in English and in each language that is the primary language of two percent or more of the state’s population.3 These laws are worded quite similarly from state to state, and there are seven states that have these right to know provisions with language access requirements: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
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*NHeLP recognizes that the term “mental retardation” is offensive, outdated, and harms the disability community. NHeLP generally uses the term “intellectual disability.”  However, this document uses the term “mental retardation” only to accurately conform to the now-outdated version of federal or state law in effect at the time the document was created. Because we have determined that the document provides valuable information not otherwise available, we continue to provide access to it through our website.


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