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Monday, April 8, 2013

How to Help States Tackle the Language Barrier in the Health Insurance Marketplace

Sascha Murillo

Staff Writer

Families USA and the National Health Law Program worked together to develop a checklist to help advocates ensure that their states implement health insurance exchanges that meet the needs of people with limited proficiency in English. Addressing this issue will be incredibly important as research shows that adults and children with limited English proficiency are significantly more likely to be uninsured than those who speak and understand English fluently.

Language could create a barrier for consumers with limited proficiency in the English, preventing them from applying and enrolling in health coverage through the new health insurance marketplaces. Because one in four consumers who will be eligible to enroll in coverage through the marketplaces speaks a language other than English at home, marketplaces must tackle language barriers head on to ensure equitable access to coverage. Terms such as “individual mandate” and “premium tax credits” are prime examples of language that these consumers may struggle to interpret. 

Here are a few examples (taken from the checklist) of things that states can do to better serve consumers with a limited proficiency in English:

  • Translate the paper and online applications that consumers will use to apply for coverage into the most common languages in the state.
  • Include taglines on the application and marketplace website in at least 15 languages to inform consumers where they can get assistance and interpretation services.
  • Select partner organizations in their state that currently provide bicultural and bilingual assistance to limited English proficiency populations to serve as navigators, in-person assisters, and certified application counselors that will help people learn about and enroll in coverage.
  • Work with partner organizations to conduct targeted outreach to populations with limited proficiency in English that are likely to be eligible for coverage.

Some states, like Oregon, are already leading the charge in addressing language barriers. Oregon’s health insurance marketplace will have staff who speak Spanish, Russian, and Vietnamese. In addition, Oregon’s health insurance marketplace website will provide translated information for consumers, including the application for health insurance, in these languages.

Providing adequate and appropriate language services will be essential to successfully implementing health insurance marketplaces and to ensuring equitable access for consumers with limited English proficiency.