Oba­macare’s Span­ish sign-up tools de­layed

Users still un­able to ap­ply for cov­er­age

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY CARLA K. JOHN­SON

CHICAGO | Add one more de­lay to the list for the roll­out of Pres­i­dent Obama’s health care law. This time, it’s a post­pone­ment of the launch of on­line en­roll­ment tools in Span­ish.

The Span­ish ver­sion of Health­Care. gov now pro­vides ba­sic in­for­ma­tion, but still doesn’t al­low users to ap­ply for in­sur­ance cov­er­age on­line. Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices spokes­woman Joanne Peters told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Tues­day that the ad­min­is­tra­tion plans a quiet launch of the Span­ish en­roll­ment tools in early De­cem­ber without much ad­ver­tis­ing.

That leaves Span­ish speak­ers get­ting help by phone from bilin­gual call cen­ter op­er­a­tors or in per­son from bilin­gual en­roll­ment coun­selors while they wait for an on­line op­tion. An es­ti­mated 10.2 mil­lion unin­sured His­pan­ics may be el­i­gi­ble for cov­er­age through the mar­ket­place. Most of them speak English or are bilin­gual, but 3.7 mil­lion rely on Span­ish.

As re­cently as last week, the ad­min­is­tra­tion had told jour­nal­ists that the Span­ish sign-up tools would be ready by the end of Novem­ber. His­panic groups had heard the same thing.

Those groups have shoul­dered much of the bur­den of an­swer­ing ques­tions from Span­ish speak­ers, hir­ing ad­di­tional staff to an­swer phones and tak­ing calls on Span­ish lan­guage ra­dio shows.

“We want the English lan­guage Web page to be up and run­ning and to be suc­cess­ful. Once we have that, then we want the Span­ish lan­guage one to be up and run­ning,” said Jane Del­gado of the Na­tional Al­liance for His­panic Health. “Peo­ple are frus­trated when they can’t com­plete en­roll­ment.”

But the ad­min­is­tra­tion was wor­ried that launch­ing the Span­ish sign-ups would make the prob­lems with the trou­bled Health­Care.gov web­site worse. The ad­min­is­tra­tion has pledged to get the site work­ing for the vast ma­jor­ity of users by the end of this month. The De­cem­ber launch will al­low His­panic groups to give their thoughts on how the Span­ish tools are work­ing.

“We think it’s im­por­tant to en­gage with key stake­hold­ers and or­ga­ni­za­tions in this process and get their feed­back,” Ms. Peters, the HHS spokes­woman, said. Af­ter the Span­ish en­roll­ment tools launch and His­panic groups pro­vide feed­back, she said, “We will ramp up our pro­mo­tional ef­forts to drive Span­ish speak­ers to Cuidado­De­Salud.gov,” the Span­ish ver­sion of Health­Care.gov.

En­roll­ment in the new health in­sur­ance mar­ket­place is open un­til March 31. Peo­ple who sign up by Dec. 23 can get cov­er­age that starts on Jan. 1.

In Chicago, Lu­via Quinones of the Illi­nois Coali­tion for Im­mi­grant and Refugee Rights said Span­ish speak­ers need in-per­son help from bilin­gual en­roll­ment coun­selors more than a web­site in Span­ish.

“They don’t need the Span­ish ver­sion to be up and run­ning,” Ms. Quinones said. It’s more im­por­tant, she said, that they are able to sit side by side with some­one who can an­swer their ques­tions in Span­ish and help them en­roll.

His­pan­ics are viewed as one of keys to the suc­cess of Mr. Obama’s cov­er­age ex­pan­sion. It’s not just their need for health in­sur­ance but their rel­a­tive youth­ful­ness is seen as a plus for the law’s new mar­kets.

About 30 per­cent of His­pan­ics are unin­sured, the high­est rate of any eth­nic group. But with a me­dian age of 27, they are younger than the U.S. pop­u­la­tion as a whole.

They are heav­ily rep­re­sented in ma­jor states that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is tar­get­ing for en­roll­ments, in­clud­ing Cal­i­for­nia, Texas and Florida. And they’re over­whelm­ingly likely to qual­ify for tax cred­its that would help make pre­mi­ums more af­ford­able.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s own mar­ket­ing study found that His­pan­ics ac­count for about 1 in 5 of the healthy and young, the health care over­haul’s most de­sir­able de­mo­graphic. Over­all, the healthy and young rep­re­sent about half the na­tion’s unin­sured. They take health for granted, are sen­si­tive to costs, and they have low mo­ti­va­tion to en­roll. But they’re less ex­pen­sive to in­sure, and their pre­mi­ums can help off­set the cost of care for older, sicker peo­ple.

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