August 28, 2012
In-Language Assistance and AAPI Elders
By: Diverse Elders


One of the most difficult challenges of low-income AAPI elders is the ability to access programs and services designed for their specific needs.  Critical is the ability to access in-language assistance to elders who are limited-English-proficient (LEP).  Limited English proficiency has profound effects on AAPI elders to access essential services and understand their rights and obligations.

For example:

A 2007 study conducted by the National Senior Citizens Law Center found that foreign language translators that assist with health plan inquiries, as required of health plan sponsors by law, were only able to serve limited English proficient AAPI beneficiaries in their primary language 37% of the time

A 2010 report of the Office of the Inspector General found that only one-third of Medicare providers offered services that met all four of the Office of Minority Health’s Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health Care standards on language access services

Nearly 1 out of 2 AAPIs have difficulty accessing mental health treatment because they do not speak English or cannot find services that meet their language needs.

It is a constant test to improve the lives of AAPI elders who are LEP but, at NAPCA, we constantly strive to improve the lives our elders by providing critical services to each through our multi-lingual Helpline.

NAPCA provides the only national toll-free Asian language Helpline created to assist limited and non-English speaking Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese seniors.  This award-winning Helpline was established to help seniors enroll in Medicare Part D prescription drug plans, enabling them to avoid English only operators and automated phone menus.

Since its creation, NAPCA has fielded over 100,000 Helpline calls. Of these, we have directly helped over 10,000 AAPI elders sign up for a Medicare Prescription Drug plan and over 1,500 seniors apply and enroll in Medicare’s Low Income Subsidy program. The Helpline currently serves about 10,000 callers annually.  In 2011, we counseled over 750 seniors using the Medicare Prescription Drug Planfinder and assisted nearly 200 seniors to submit applications for the Low Income Subsidy Program.

Without this vital assistance, linguistic and cultural barriers would prevent low-income AAPI elders from enrolling in this and other public programs.  The Helpline has received awards from the American Society on Aging (ASA) the U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA), recognition from President George W. Bush, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and senators and congressmen from across the country. In June, 2009 the Helpline won the Seattle Human Services Coalition’s ‘Innovative Program Award.’

Scott Peck is the Director of Policy at the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.