More than a dozen Utah physicians who treated hearing-impaired patients say they no longer will do so if they have to pay the cost of an interpreter.

Utah Interpreter Services (UIS), part of the state Office of Rehabilitation, has been providing interpreters for doctors treating hearing-impaired patients. The government picked up the tab.The Americans with Disabilities Act now places the responsibility for ensuring effective communication on the health providers.

Last month, UIS began notifying doctors that it will no longer provide interpreters for free. Doctors and other health-care providers will be billed between $10 and $25 per hour for interpreters.

According to UIS director Mitchell Jensen, 19 of 21 doctors notified of the change told UIS they would no longer treat deaf patients.

Refusing to treat deaf patients would amount to discrimination, said Tamara Wharton, an ombudsman for the Governor's Council on People with Disabilities.

Dr. Robert H. Horne, a Sandy orthopedic and hand surgeon, said saddling doctors with the financial burden of paying interpreters is not fair.

"Why should I bear the expense of treating the disabled?" said Horne. "My feeling is that somewhere along the line they can't put the whole burden on the physician for what would normally be paid for by a state institution."

Horne said he is already required to treat patients on public assistance when he is on duty in the emergency room. But the government payment for such treatment is lower than his billed charges.

"Why should I be taking care of people for free?" he said.

Wharton said health-care professionals are not being targeted because anyone who serves disabled clients must ensure equal access. Tax credits are given for providing such aids as interpreters.

Hardship exemptions are also available for service providers who cannot bear the additional expense.

Jensen said doctors who have used UIS interpreters in the past could expect to be billed between $100 and $200 per year.