Healthcare Website Frustrates Spanish Speakers

Healthcare Website Frustrates Spanish Speakers

By RUSSELL CONTRERAS and KELLI KENNEDY
Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.
Mirroring problems with the federal health care website, people around the nation attempting to navigate the Spanish version have discovered their own set of difficulties.

The site, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, launched more than two months late.

A Web page with Spanish instructions linked users to an English form.

And the translations were so clunky and full of grammatical mistakes that critics say they must have been computer-generated _ the name of the site itself can literally be read “for the caution of health.”

The issues with the site underscore the halting efforts across the nation to get Spanish-speakers enrolled under the federal health care law. Critics say that as a result of various problems, including those related to the website, many people whom the law was designed to help have been left out of the first wave of coverage.

Federal officials say they have been working to make the site better and plan further improvements soon. Also, administrators say they welcome feedback and try to fix typos or other errors quickly.

Still, efforts to enroll Spanish-speakers have fallen short in several states with large Hispanic populations, and critics say the translated version of HealthCare.gov could have helped boost those numbers.

In California, officials have acknowledged the need for improvements, saying fewer than 5,500 people signed up for health care in Spanish in October and November, the most recent period for which records are available. About 4.3 million California residents speak only Spanish, according to census data. It’s not clear how many of these residents are without health insurance, but observers say few groups are more vulnerable.

In New Mexico, the state with the nation’s highest percentage of Latino residents and where more than 20 percent of the state’s population goes without health insurance, fewer than 1,000 people total signed up for coverage in October and November.

In Florida, federal health officials have not said how many of the state’s nearly 18,000 enrollees for October and November were Latino, but that group accounts for about one-third of the roughly 3.5 million uninsured people in the state. About 1.2 million people in the state speak only Spanish.

Across the U.S., about 12 percent of the 317 million people in the country speak only Spanish, but federal officials have said less than 4 percent of calls to a national hotline were Spanish-only as of last month.

Many blame at least some of the enrollment problems on the trouble-plagued site.

Diaz said she tried to sign up at home using CuidadoDeSalud.gov. After she couldn’t get the website to accept a scanned document, she called the government’s Spanish hotline seeking help. However, she was repeatedly told to call back because the site was down. She got through days later and waited over an hour for an operator before she was ultimately disconnected.

Diaz, who speaks very little English, finally went to a counselor for help and is now waiting for an email from health officials saying she can proceed with her application.

Diaz hasn’t had insurance since moving to Florida two years ago. She will likely qualify for a tax subsidy to help pay her monthly premiums and has said she wants insurance mostly for peace of mind.

Such stories have frustrated Latino advocates, especially since the problems with the site come after an unprecedented collaboration between competing Spanish-language media outlets and Latino businesses, urging members of their communities to sign up for health care on Oct. 1. But advocates say despite promises from federal officials, the Spanish-language site was not up until Dec. 6.

Univision Communications Inc., which runs the largest Spanish-language media network, has been airing daily public service announcements about the health care overhaul. It hosted and aired a live town hall meeting out of Los Angeles last month to discuss the law, and another such event has been planned for February.

The network frequently airs segments about the Affordable Care Act on its weekend health shows, and it produced a documentary exploring obstacles Latinos face signing up for health insurance, network spokesman Jose Zamora said.

The film, featuring a 19-year-old Mexican-American whose father suffered three heart attacks with no insurance aired Dec. 1 _ five days before CuidadoDeSalud.gov went live.

Since the site has been active, users have reported disappointment and frustration in both the functionality and language.

For example, links comparing insurance plans took users to the English version of the options. That glitch was fixed last week after The Associated Press contacted Health and Human Services to ask about the problem.

As for the language, Plaza, the New Mexico professor, said a recent examination by her research students concluded that the translations were done “by a computer-generated process” and came across as awkward.

The website translates “premium” into “prima,” but that Spanish word is more commonly used to mean a female cousin, Plaza said. A more accurate translation, she said, would be “cuotas,” “couta mensual” or “costo annual.”

According to Health and Human Services, the website was translated with the same methods and team used to translate content into Spanish for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

But health care workers in Miami also have reported technical problems that don’t exist on the English version of HealthCare.gov.

Nini Hadwen, a health care navigator, said she also prefers to use the English website even when she’s enrolling Spanish-language applicants. CuidadoDeSalud.gov “doesn’t navigate as smoothly from page to page,” she said. “It takes longer.”

Also, navigators say Spanish-language applicants must provide income and immigration documentation. Frequently, applicants are required to scan and fax supplemental documents, which can also be challenging, as Diaz’s case shows.

However, Jane Delgado, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health in Washington, D.C., defends the site, saying Friday that delays were merely “part of the process” and that she was confident federal officials would get it running better soon.

Overall, Delgado said Spanish-speaking Latinos will benefit from the federal overhaul in the long-term because the population is less likely to be insured compared with other groups.

Still, Gabriel Sanchez, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico, said the problems hurt the credibility of federal officials and reinforce the belief held by some that authorities are indifferent to the plight of Latinos.

Sanchez said, “They will look at this, and think, `Man, they really don’t care about us.'”

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Kennedy and Associated Press writer Laura Wides-Munoz contributed to this report from Miami.

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Follow Russell Contreras at http://twitter.com/russcontreras.

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