Christine Stuart photo
Sen. Jonathan Harris pictured (Christine Stuart photo )

When Gov. M. Jodi Rell cut $4.7 million out of this year’s budget to provide medical interpretation services to Medicaid recipients, Sen. Jonathan Harris of West Hartford, was surprised, but not defeated.

At a news conference Friday, he said that the money, which would serve an estimated 22,000 Medicaid recipients with limited English proficiency, increases access to the health care system and saves taxpayers money by helping health care providers avoid mistakes.

Majority Leader Chris Donovan of Meriden said his wife is a health care professional and she needs to know where it hurts and where it doesn’t so that she can help. “This is just common sense,” he said, adding that the state will receive 50 percent of the $4.7 million back from the federal government.

Maria Serrano, a case manager with the Hispanic Health Council, said it’s common for families with limited English proficiency to take their bilingual children out of school so that they can translate for their parents at the hospital.

Rep. William Tong of Stamford, understands all too well how important medical interpretation is. Over the past five years Tong, a Chinese American, lost both his grandparents to cancer. Luckily his family was there to translate for his grandparents. “What if we weren’t there?” he said. “These are medical concepts we all have trouble with, even in English.”

Fernando Betancourt, executive director of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, said “we’re not here asking for a favor.” He said the Connecticut Coalition for Medical Interpretation, an alliance of 40 organizations, was at the Legislative Office Building Friday to demand an appropriation. “This is an issue of human rights,” he said. It’s also “cost effective for everybody.”

Department of Social Services Commissioner Michael Starkowski told the Appropriations Committee Friday that there is still $1.175 million in last year’s budget for medical interpretation services, but there’s some confusion over whether it would be done by phone or face-to-face. “We haven’t expended one dollar yet,” Starkowski said.

Click here to read Judy Benson’s report on this issue in The Day.