Politics

Spanish Speakers Frustrated By Federal Health Care Website

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People who have tried to sign up for insurance on the Spanish version of the federal health care website have run into their own set of difficulties. (Source: cuidadodesalud.gov)

People who have tried to sign up for insurance on the Spanish version of the federal health care website have run into their own set of difficulties. (Source: cuidadodesalud.gov)

Politics

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – People who have tried to sign up for insurance on the Spanish version of the federal health care website have run into their own set of difficulties.

First off the site, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, launched more than two months late.

Another problem, a Web page with Spanish instructions linked users to an English form. Also, 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.”

“When you get into the details of the plans, it’s not all written in Spanish. It’s written in Spanglish, so we end up having to translate it for them,” said Adrian Madriz, a health care navigator who helps with enrollment in Miami.

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.

“We launched consumer-friendly Spanish online enrollment tools on CuidadoDeSalud.gov in December which represents one more way for Latinos to enroll in Marketplace plans,” said Health and Human Services Department spokesman Richard Olague in an email. “Since the soft-launch, we continue to work closely with key stakeholders to get feedback in order to improve the experience for those consumers that use the website.”

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 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.

“In my opinion, the website doesn’t work,” said Grettl Diaz, a 37-year-old Miami gas station cashier who is originally from Cuba.

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.

“I’m very frustrated,” she said through a translator this month. “I’ve spent at least one week on the phone, and I couldn’t get it done.”

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.

“Now, I am healthy,” she said. “But I don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”

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.

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 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.

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.

“Insurance is way complicated. It’s not like paying for a cellphone,” she said. “Technology is only part of the answer.”

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.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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