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Health care 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.”

“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 to the Associated Press. “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.”

Efforts falling short

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 United States, 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.

Frustrations abound

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, 37, a 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.



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