Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Medicare and the language barrier

The Los Angeles Times is carrying a piece on the difficulty Medicare beneficiaries with limited English skills are having with President Bush's complex Medicare drug plan. Of course, this would affect a few kyopo elderly, and the primary "human focus" of the story is several harabŏji and halmŏni:
More than a month had gone by, and 81-year-old Lee Sun Hua still didn't have his medication.

In January, a pharmacist had refused to give the Koreatown resident his drugs, erroneously telling Lee he needed his new Medicare drug prescription card. He waited for weeks, and even had a volunteer at a Koreatown nonprofit agency call to request it. But it never came.

Bothered by a chronic stomach ailment, Lee called his Medicare drug plan provider, Blue Cross, two weeks ago to inquire again.

"I don't speak English," he said, reading from a tip sheet prepared by the nonprofit, which spelled out the pronunciation of English phrases using Korean syllables. "Korean, please."

"We don't have any Korean speakers here," came the blunt response, as Lee recalled the conversation. "Does anyone over there speak English?"

If native English speakers are having trouble grasping the new Medicare prescription drug plan, many immigrants with little or no English ability are far worse off. As the May 15 deadline for picking a plan approaches, elderly immigrants are swamping clinics, community centers and pharmacies, unable to read the litany of Medicare-related mailings and or even ask questions about their new plans.
I can't exactly say Korea is much better. I remember back in the 1990s when international residents were fighting to receive coverage with Korea's national health care scheme. The pendulum has completely swung the other way, and now foreign residents are required to pay (and believe me, they make you pay).*

Yet while the ROK government is now treating internationals like Korean nationals by making enrollment compulsory, the various bureaus of the health insurance scheme do NOT have people on staff who can help out the tens of thousands of English-, Japanese-, or Chinese-speaking new members who struggle with Korean language.

* Unbeknownst to me, an earlier "employer" had not paid for two years' worth of insurance premiums, about 1 million won. I discovered this—or rather, my bank discovered this—when I was re-working the "mortgage" on my apartment. I could not get the new loan until I got that paid off.

1 comment:

  1. i left medicare and just bought a prescription card. This program has been a Godsend to both my husband and myself. On Jan. 1, 2008 we were moved to Medicare Part D and many of the drugs we take daily are now not covered. Without the YourRXCard we would not have been able to afford our drugs anymore due to the high cost. We can now purchase ALL of our drugs due to the RXCard. I cannot tell you how much we appreciate this card!! Thank you very much.

    prescription drug card


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