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SE HABLA ESPANOL? PARLEZ VOUZ FRANCAISE? SPRECHEN SSE DEUTSCH?
By Margie Stern
The United States grants legal immigration status to more ‘people in a single year than all other industrial- ized nations omhined. Over two million Deopie are granted legal permanent residence in our country each year.
Nearly 80 percent of each year’s legal imn igrai s choose to settle in seven states. The shaded box to the right reveals some eye opening 1991 statistics. And remember, these numbers represent only those people who crossed the borders legally. The numbers do not
reflect the hordes of illegal immigrants who reside within our nation’s boundaries. It is estimated, however, that the number of illegal immigrants is three times that of the legal immigrants.
Estimates reveal that over 60 percent of babies born in Southern California hospitals are born of illegal mothers. The babies, however, by virtue of being born in the USA. are automatically considered to be
One half of all illegal aliens in America reside in Southern California.
Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and the state-run Medicaid program provide over half a billion dollars in health care to illegal aliens each year.
In the next ten years, some estimates say 500 billion dollars of taxpayer money will he spent on illegal aliens.
And then there is insurance – the other form of big-bucks state lottery. Hundreds of thousands of claims are filed with insurers each year, and a significant number of these claims require the services of a language interpreter.
Since there is no actual license required to call oneself an interpreting service or to open an interpreting agency, the field has attracted its share of the unethical, immoral and downright crooks. Scams have run the gamut – from the paper MEDS facility hiring a paper interpreter service – to PI attorney owned interpreter services hiring themselves out to insurers and interpreting for their own clients (unbeknownst to the insurance companies) – to interpreters who act as cappers, slipping attorney cards to the victims they are allegedly serving. Some of these scams have been going on for over 20 years. Why? Because big-bucks insurance companies make such easy-to-hit targets. Too many carriers attach a level of importance to a certain service that is equivalent to its cost percentage of the overall picture. And, since the cost of translator services is a very small part of the total claim cost, they often do not pay the same attention to – or even recognize – the quality of the service and individual translators they do business with. Little_ do these companies realize what the end result of such inattentiveness can be.
Any large metropolitan city in the USA will have a certain percentage of monolingual (non-English speaking) claimants. In Southern California, the number of monolingual claimants is estimated at 50 percent.
It is not uncommon for members of cluster ethnic communities to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous doctors and lawyers. While many of these people are honest by nature, they often encounter a different set of moral standards and values when they cross our borders and are immersed in the American way of life.
Consider the following: in most Middle Eastern countries, crime is simply not tolerated. In some places, if a man is caught stealing, the punishment is not 30 days in county jail and two years of supervised probation. Not at all! The thief may instead be dealt with by having his right hand cut off. Although this severe practice varies by country, it is still happening in heavily Muslim enclaves in Saudi Arabia and Syria, to name just a few. The cutting off of the right hand has special significance within the Muslim community because long-standing custom dictates that the left hand is used to wipe one’s bottom and the right hand is used to eat from the community bowl. Thus, a man with only a left hand is shunned and ostracized by Muslim society. Needless to say, thievery – in any form is a seldom seen problem in these areas of the world.
Consider also, the recent incident in Singapore. An American teenager, having been convicted of property vandalism, was meted out the same punishment that would be afforded to any citizen of that land. Even a plea from President Clinton, alluding to the punishment as cruel and unusual, did not save the young offender from receiving multiple strokes with a special cane. The young Ohio man will carry the scars upon his backside for the rest of his life. Is it any wonder that “graffiti” and other petty vandalism is not often seen in Singapore?
Simply stated, no two cultures are alike in their concept of crime or punishment. In Hispanic countries, two things are very high on the cultural priority list. First is the concept of family and second is the everyday importance of religion in the lives of the people.
Any time an immigrant crosses into the USA, regardless of legal status, another factor enters the picture and is singularly responsible for molding an entirely new mind set of what constitutes moral, ethical behavior. What do we call this third element? The MEDIA!
Turn on any Spanish TV station (or Vietnamese, or Korean, or Arabic, etc.) and take a look at what is airing. Medical clinic commercials offering the additional service of attorney referrals. PI attorneys saying things like “Are you feeling stressed out at work?” and promising great rewards to those who call the flashing 1-800 referral lines. Insurance is presented over and over by smiling media representatives as an American right; ripe tree fruit ready for picking. Nearly 10 percent of total day and early evening television is filled with this honesty altering propaganda. Is it any wonder that asuraganza is looked upon as an entitlement, manna from the American heavens?
The above may provide some insight as to why the problem exists. But how can an honest or dishonest interpreter affect the outcome of any given claim?
For simplification, assume that there are only three kinds of claimants:
1. The HARD FRAUDS, including rings of unscrupulous individuals, generally attorney driven, that present claims for non-existent injuries or damages.
2. The SOFT FRAUDS, where the accident or occurrence may have been genuine, but the damages or injuries are escalated or built up for the purposes of obtaining a larger settlement. Once again, these are most commonly driven by medical or legal professionals.
3. The NO FRAUDS, an honest claim presented as the result of a real occurrence, where no build-up is evident.
In any of the above scenarios, an honest interpreter can provide a great service to the insurer – and a dishonest interpreter can make the situation ten-fold worse.
HARD FRAUD cases will often include bills for paper interpretation services. It is but one more avenue of collection for the greed machine. Insurers who arbitrarily pay these bills without checking their validity do a disservice to the industry. For HARD FRAUD cases that actually proceed to the recorded-statement or EUO level, a dishonest interpreter may be “on the take” and legally aware enough to re-state certain answers that (s)he recognizes to be detrimental to the claimant’s case. An honest interpreter, on the other hand, will make no effort to swing the outcome one way or another, but will instead translate, as literally as possible, what is said.
A higher percentage of SOFT FRAUD cases are bound to reach the recorded statement, EUO or deposition plateau and insurers can expect the same types of behavior from honest vs. dishonest interpreters. They can also expect that the occasional unrepresented claimant will be nudged toward legal counsel by the dishonest interpreter.
This same card-passing and verbal capping activity occurs all too often in the NO FRAUD cases. Over the years, it’s been seen too many times to count and the ultimate cost to the insurance industry is beyond computation. This statement bears repeating. The ultimate cost to the insurance industry is beyond computation.
It is a fact of life that there is a great deal more money to be made in graft and pay-off monies in our culture, in almost any profession, than by approaching the work honestly. Interpreters are not an immune species by any means.
How can an insurer locate a professional interpretation service and be reasonably certain that its interpreters are not advising, interjecting opinions/bias, or capping as a result of their constant association with applicant attorneys or doctors? The surest way to avoid this is to locate a service that has a history, comes heartily recommended by other carriers or providers, has a vigorous interview process, has a significant percentage of long-term interpreters (independent contractors in almost all cases), is well studied in fraud prevention and does not sell its services on price alone. A steady and reputable agency will also provide certain additional services that are connotative of an established agency that works within the guidelines of good business practices – services such as statistics re: monolingual (non-English) problems, up-and-coming languages, cultural manipulation by the media and solutions to abuses. In short, education.
To be the most effective against insurance fraud, companies must treat the hiring of an interpreter the same as they treat the hiring of any other employee. Although the cost of interpreting services is minuscule when compared to the cost of the doctor/attorney bills, their importance to the successful outcome of the fraud investigation should never be underestimated.
Here are some questions to ask when considering the hiring of an interpreter:
Does the agency have an owner who is able to bear personal scrutiny? If it is a corporation, this question applies to the officers and stockholders.
Does the agency specialize in applicant cases, defense cases or do a mixture of both types of work? (Would an insurance company hire a known applicant attorney to be their defense counsel?)
Does the agency have a business license, a DBA if applicable, an errors and omissions policy and independent contractor contracts in force?
Do they belong to civic organizations, professional organizations, etc? Are they known in the community?
How extensive is their interview with potential contract employees? Do they check references and education? Do they interview “in person,” putting special emphasis on moral and ethical values as well as language skills?
How are errors covered? Who pays the additional costs incurred?
What is required regarding education and certification? (Hint: settle for no less than a 2-year college education and special language study.)
Does the agency strictly adhere to a NO GIFT POLICY? (Moonlight cruises, vacations, etc. offered to examiners, adjusters or other personnel are kickbacks, plain and simple.)
Does the agency have an actual office; complete with administrative employees, equipment, file cabinets, records, etc? Will they allow an on-premises visit? (SIU’s routinely inspect medical facilities. Why not afford the same scrutiny to interpreter services?)
Does the agency do periodic reviews and performance checks on their employees, even the long term interpreters?
Are the fees too low to believe? Remember, underpaid interpreters may be more susceptible to outside offers from applicant attorneys, etc.
What information will routinely be provided by the agency to the company client?
Interpreting is a neophyte industry. Anyone can print a business card and type up a bill.
Any reasonably proficient bilingual individual can potentially be responsible for thousands of dollars in claims payouts/savings. Following the above suggested guidelines provides a starting point for the selection of an agency and interpreter. But it is necessary to understand that even the most responsible agency can occasionally be infiltrated by a dishonest interpreter or witness the distressing turn of an honest interpreter into a dishonest interpreter. Recently, a routine follow-up turned up a single case in my own office, proof positive that greed and corruption can sneak through the best built walls and that we are all susceptible to the malas intenciones (bad intentions) of the proverbial “bad apple.”
Honest interpreters have saved the insurance industry millions of dollars.
Dishonest interpreters have cost the insurance industry millions of dollars.
The choice is obvious.
The choice is yours.
Margie Stern is the President / CEO of Interpretations, a Los Angeles based defense interpreting service. She has counseled, advised, educated and been a guest speaker for over 500 companies and defense entities. Her company employs nine administrative employees and 800 contract interpreters in all languages, including sign.
© 1995 John Cooke Fraud Repor