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Calif. Faces Language Barriers in Marketing Health Plan Exchange

California officials are considering strategies for marketing the state health insurance exchange to non-English speakers, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports.


 The Affordable Care Act requires states to launch online insurance marketplaces by 2014. California's exchange -- named Covered California -- primarily will serve individuals and small businesses.

Supporters hope that the exchange will function similar to websites like Amazon and Expedia so that users will be able to choose between various health plans through an easily navigable online store.

The exchange is expected to open for registration in October.


Diversity in California

According to a joint study by the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the UC-Berkeley Labor Center, two-thirds of the estimated 2.6 million adults who will become eligible for federal subsidies in California's health insurance exchange are people of color.


The study found that roughly one million of those individuals speak English less than very well.


The researchers said that the success of the health reform law "hinges in part on how well the state conducts culturally and linguistically competent outreach and enrollment efforts."


Laura Lopez -- executive director of Street Level Health Project -- said, "'Covered California' translates to 'California Cubierto' in Spanish, but what exactly does it mean?" She said that outreach efforts must go beyond "providing a piece of paper that says this is what is covered" and instead must include initiatives to "hav[e] people on the ground talking with the community."


In addition, Doreena Wong -- who promotes health care access for immigrants at the Los Angeles-based Asian Pacific American Legal Center -- is urging the California health insurance exchange board to build a website that offers translations of information in prevalent languages other than English and Spanish, such as Arabic and Chinese.

State Response


Peter Lee -- executive director of Covered California -- recently announced that new federal funding will be used to:

Support a multilingual campaign to encourage residents to enroll in the exchange;

Develop a network of community-based assistants who can help guide non-English speakers to an appropriate health plan; and


Build multilingual call centers.

Oscar Hidalgo -- communications director for the exchange -- said, "California is unique from every other state not only geographically because our population is spread out, but you have multiple ethnic populations that are traditionally hard to reach. And they need their own custom way to be reached."

In addition, he said that was designed so that information can be translated into more languages at a later time.


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