[November 27, 2013]CHICAGO (AP) — Add one more delay to
the list for the rollout of President Barack Obama's health care law.
This time, it's a postponement of the launch of online enrollment tools
The Spanish version of HealthCare.gov now provides basic
information, but still doesn't allow users to apply for insurance
coverage online. U.S. Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne
Peters told The Associated Press on Tuesday 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 Latinos 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
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
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," Peters, the
HHS spokeswoman, said. After the Spanish enrollment tools launch and
Hispanic groups provide feedback, "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.
"We still think it's an urgent issue that Latinos be enrolled. We
are confronted with the fact that there are not the types of
Spanish-language tools that would have facilitated that process,"
said Jennifer Ng'andu of the National Council of La Raza, a Latino
advocacy group. "That makes it even more crucial for the bilingual
assisters to be a part of this process and to be a central part of
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," 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 Obama's
coverage expansion. It's not just that there's a need for health
insurance among Latinos, but their relative youthfulness is seen as
a plus for the law's new markets.
About 30 percent of Latinos 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.
The goal of the Spanish version of the website was to provide an
easy enrollment capability for the 17 percent of Latinos who prefer
to use Spanish. As it turned out, the English-language website
sputtered. But the Spanish version didn't even get off the ground.
Prior to the Oct. 1 launch of HealthCare.gov, the administration had
announced it was postponing Spanish-language sign-ups and other
desirable features in an effort to focus on core functions. Although
that strategy ultimately did not work, officials said they would not
lose sight of having a Spanish-language capability as the underlying
English website was repaired.
People who live in the United States illegally aren't eligible for
coverage under the law, but they must enroll any children born here
or face a tax penalty. Quinones said it's a common fear among mixed
status families that signing up their children for insurance will
prompt an unwelcome visit from immigration authorities.
Last month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it
would not use health insurance enrollment information for