Finally (Soft) Launches For Spanish Speakers

December 11, 2013

The beleaguered still suffers from glitches that impede the online enrollment process, but people are getting through.

Not so for those attempting to enroll on the Spanish-language version of the site, Despite the exchange being open for over two months, the site’s online enrollment feature only just opened for a soft launch on Friday, December 6th to a limited group of enrollees for testing prior to a full-scale launch.

This is just one of the roadblocks for uninsured Latinos attempting to enroll in health insurance on the federal exchange. And the stakes are high for the federal government if it is to meet enrollment targets, as Latinos make up about 32% of the uninsured population nationwide.

Perhaps even more important, nearly half of uninsured Latinos are under the age of 26.  This age group, the so-called “young invincibles,” is a key target population, since their healthy numbers offset enrollees with preexisting conditions that require costly procedures and care.

In California alone, Latinos make up a whopping 60% of those without insurance, according to the California HealthCare Foundation. State-by-state percentages can be seen in this chart.

In addition to being a large percentage of the uninsured, Latinos are the least informed, likely in part because of the language barrier. A recent survey revealed that 69% found the Affordable Care Act  “complicated and confusing;” 71% could not name a single policy that was included in it.

First on the list of obstacles for uninsured Latinos attempting to enroll is the state of the

Because of the continued delays with the Spanish language site, there is a heightened feeling of distrust of exchanges among Latinos, according to representatives from the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).

The soft launch of the site opened up enrollment to a small group of organizations representing Spanish-speakers to test the site’s functionality. Many are hopeful that bugs within the site will be worked out quickly, allowing it to be ready quickly for a full-scale launch to the public.

While this hope is yet to be realized with the federal site, one state that did a great job for Spanish-speaking visitors to its online enrollment portal from day one is Kentucky.

When a visitor chooses the Spanish language option on Kentucky’s state-run exchange, Kynect — considered by many the gold standard for online enrollment sites — the site presents information and tools in Spanish throughout the process. For secondary support, a popup window invites site visitors to call an 800 number for assistance with Spanish-speaking interpreters.

On the federal level, a lack of bilingual assisters has been a pain point for enrollment as well.

For example, one type of assistor is the Certified Application Counselor (CAC), which have been touted as key to the enrollment process. Similar to navigators, CACs undergo a multi-hour certification process that lets them assist individuals in enrolling in plans. Yet, while Spanish-language training materials are available for navigators, no such materials exist for CACs.

Even before they get to the assisters, uninsured Latinos’ exposure to community outreach efforts has arrived in fits and starts.

States have had moderate success with grassroots efforts centered on community centers, childcare facilities, and health clinics alongside door-to-door education campaigns. In addition to these efforts, some states have used idiosyncratic methods to get the word out.

One example of this is in California, where the California Endowment, a foundation created by Blue Cross, dedicated half a million dollars to instruct Hollywood screenwriters to “produce compelling prime-time narratives that encourage Americans to enroll.”

Does this mean Spanish-speaking Californians should expect plots in their favorite telenovelas to include protagonists being advised to enroll in health insurance? It’ll be hard to track, but it would be interesting to see how much success they have with that particular outreach campaign.

An unanticipated complication of community outreach has to do with “mixed families” – families that have both documented and undocumented family members.  Because the Affordable Care Act does not provide coverage for undocumented individuals, they may not pursue coverage for their documented family members, having been told that they themselves are ineligible. The National Immigration Law Center breaks down coverage for both documented and undocumented immigrants here.

So what’s the takeaway? Even though many non-profits, community groups, and governmental organizations are making concerted effort to reach Latinos, the combination of a slow start for the federally managed exchange, inconsistent outreach, and limited bilingual support makes enrolling in health insurance a difficult undertaking if you don’t speak English.

And these days, it can still be difficult even if you do!

One Response to “ Finally (Soft) Launches For Spanish Speakers”

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