The website launched on Oct. 1 with limited function and a promise that a Spanish-language enrollment feature was coming soon. The Obama administration said Monday that the critical component will finally go live by Nov. 30 — with no assurance that the new pages won’t suffer the same kind of sign-up problems that have plagued the English-language version for nearly two months.
Until now, Latinos have only been able to find general enrollment information in Spanish on the website. The problem has frustrated legislators and advocates seeking to get them insured.
“I don’t have the bilingual response I needed,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said. The delay in getting the Spanish-language component ready was a bad oversight, he added. “It was not very smart to ignore that.”
Nearly half of Grijalva’s constituents are Latino, and a large number speak only Spanish or don’t feel conversant enough in English to try something as important as signing up for health coverage without a translation. He worries that Latinos’ support for the law, which has been generally high, will start to fade if they can’t all go online soon to buy coverage.
“If you find access difficult, that starts to erode,” Grijalva said.
A lot is at stake. Of the 10.2 million Latinos who are eligible for health coverage through the federal or state insurance exchanges, about 3.8 million “rely on Spanish,” according to Health and Human Services. If as many people sign up for Obamacare coverage as expected, the uninsured rate among Latinos is projected to drop by 18 percent — more than any other group.
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HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius initially touted the Spanish-language version of HealthCare.gov this year, but the Obama administration has downplayed its importance since Oct. 1.
Spanish speakers do have other ways to enroll, either by meeting with a navigator or seeking bilingual assistance through the Obamacare enrollment hotline. And California and numerous other states running their own exchanges have had Spanish-language websites up since Oct. 1.
“A lot of people are bilingual, but they’re more comfortable with Spanish, so when they’re doing something as important as choosing their health care, they’re more apt to want to…