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Home > Health Insurance Basics > Know Your Rights > Language Assistance

Language Assistance

Video still of patient with doctor and interpreter

If your first language is not English, your health plan usually must give you assistance in your language.  If you use sign language, you have the right to a sign language interpreter. 

You have the right to this assistance when you need to explain your health problem to your doctor, or when you need to understand your health problem, treatment choices, and important written information.

Watch the "Your Right to an Interpreter" video...

Find videos in: Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, and American Sign Language...

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Language assistance can include

  • Medical interpreters.
  • Doctors and staff who speak your language.
  • Printed materials in your language, such as consent forms and directions for treatment.
  • Interpreters for you when your child needs care.

What does your health plan offer?

Call your plan’s customer/member service number—it is on your membership card. Ask what language assistance the plan provides. Some plans provide many services.


Look for doctors who speak your language

  • Ask your plan for a list of doctors who speak your language. Ask for a copy of the plan’s provider directory, or look on the plan’s website.
  • Ask for office staff who can help you make appointments and find providers.

Ask for an interpreter at your visits

All health plans must provide an interpreter when you ask for one. The interpreter may be in the room with you, or available through a telephone or video-conference system.

  • When you make an appointment, say that you need an interpreter.
  • You can ask to come early and meet with the interpreter ahead of time.
  • You do not have to pay for the interpreter.
  • Ask your doctor's office to note in your medical record that you need an interpreter and need documents in your language.


Do not rely on family to interpret for you

  • Family and friends are not trained to translate medical terms. Professional medical interpreters are trained to interpret health information correctly.
  • You may not want your family or friends to hear your medical problems or questions.
  • Professional medical interpreters must keep all of your information private.

Make sure you understand important forms and directions

Ask for information in your primary language. If you do not read well, ask for someone to interpret for you. Important forms and directions include:

  • Consent forms: These are forms you must sign to say that you understand a treatment before you agree to have it.
  • Prescription drug directions: These tell you exactly how to take the drug and the side effects to watch for.
  • Treatment directions: These could include directions to prepare for a test or to care for yourself after surgery.


If you have a problem getting an interpreter or translated materials

If your doctor's office will not provide an interpreter, you should call your health plan and explain the problem.  If they do not solve it:

  • You have the right to file a complaint with your health plan. Learn more about How to File a Complaint...
  • If you have an urgent health issue and are having trouble getting information in your language, contact the Help Center at the Department of Managed Health Care at 1-888-466-2219 for assistance.  Or file a complaint at
  • Also contact the Help Center if you have questions about the complaint process or if your health plan does not address your complaint.  



OPA materials: How to Use Your Health Plan Guide

OPA materials: California's HMO Guide for Seniors

Department of Managed Health Care's Help Center

California Department of Insurance Consumer Hotline

Health Consumer Alliance

Deaf Counseling, Advocacy, and Referral Agency


Related Topics

Choosing a Doctor

Talking with Your Doctor

Choosing a Treatment

Referrals and Pre-Approvals

Second Opinions

Disability Assistance

Know Your Rights


Health Plan Problems?

Call 1-888-466-2219

Find other resources...