Providing a Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) that is culturally and linguistically appropriate is not just a good practice—it’s a legal requirement for many group health plans. Whether your plan is self-insured or fully insured, it’s essential to understand and comply with these regulations to avoid penalties and ensure your members can access and understand their benefits. In this blog post, we’ll break down what you need to know about furnishing the SBC in languages other than English.

Understanding the Requirement

The SBC must be presented in a “culturally and linguistically appropriate” manner. This requirement is part of a broader effort to ensure that individuals who are literate only in a non-English language can understand their health coverage options. The specific conditions under which this requirement is triggered are based on U.S. Census data.

When Does the Requirement Apply?

The requirement applies if your plan’s SBC is provided to individuals in any county where at least 10% of the population is literate only in the same non-English language. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regularly updates a list of such counties and the languages that apply. As of January 1, 2025, a new list will come into effect, and it’s crucial for plan administrators to stay updated with these changes.

Compliance Steps for Group Health Plans

To comply with the “culturally and linguistically appropriate” requirement, follow these steps:

  1. Identify Applicable Counties: Check the latest HHS list to see if any counties where your plan members reside meet the 10% threshold for non-English language literacy.
  2. Provide Interpretive Services: In applicable counties, offer interpretive services in the relevant languages. This includes answering questions and providing assistance in the non-English language.
  3. Include a One-Sentence Statement: On the SBC, include a one-sentence statement in the applicable non-English languages. This statement should clearly indicate how to access language services. It must be placed on the same page as the “Your Rights to Continue Coverage” and “Your Grievance and Appeals Rights” sections.
  4. Offer Written Translations: Upon request, provide a written translation of the SBC in the applicable non-English language. The agencies have provided an SBC template that includes this one-sentence statement in all required languages for plan years beginning before 2025.
  5. Stay Updated: Keep an eye on updates from the HHS, DOL, and IRS regarding additional translations and template updates. These resources will assist in maintaining compliance with the latest requirements.
Voluntary Compliance

Even if your plan does not operate in a county meeting the 10% threshold, you may choose to include the one-sentence statement in any non-English language. If you opt for this, ensure you are prepared to provide the necessary language services.

Differentiating SBC Requirements from ERISA

It’s important to note that the requirements for SBCs differ from ERISA’s rules on language assistance for Summary Plan Descriptions (SPDs) and Summary of Material Modifications (SMMs). Ensure you are familiar with both sets of regulations to avoid confusion and non-compliance.

Meeting the requirement for a culturally and linguistically appropriate SBC is vital for compliance and member satisfaction. By following the steps outlined above, your self-insured group health plan can ensure that all members understand their coverage options, regardless of their primary language. Stay informed, be proactive, and provide the necessary language services to comply with federal regulations and support your diverse member base.

Source: Thomson Reuters

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