Help Your Spanish-Speaking Family Member Enroll in a Health Insurance Plan

Health Care BELatina

Don´t let language gaps or economic fears become barriers to protecting your family´s health. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act it´s not only easier and more affordable to get insured, but you can also do it in español at Cuidado de Salud.gov. 

This week is a critical one for uninsured Americans as well as those of us who are renewing our plans: If you don’t sign up by December 15, you can’t get 2020 coverage unless you qualify for a Special Enrollment Period (for people who have had certain life events, including losing health coverage, moving, getting married, having a baby, or adopting a child).

Latinos should be especially prepared this week to check in on their family members to help them enroll in the right plan. According to the Office of Minority Health, Hispanics have the highest uninsured rates of any racial or ethnic group within the United States. In 2017, the Census Bureau reported that only 49 percent of Hispanics had private insurance coverage in comparison to 75 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

The truth is, aside from fearing costly plans, many Spanish-dominant Hispanics in the U.S. don´t enroll in health insurance because they don´t understand the information offered to them in English. If you are helping a relative enroll in a plan, be aware to inform them that they have every right to ask for information in Spanish or to ask for interpreters if their doctor doesn’t speak Spanish. The Spanish language site on Healthcare.gov aims to provide answers to Hispanics’ most common questions. 

In fact, if you go to HeathCare.gov and click on new enrollment before December 15, 2019, you can choose the best plan for your needs and budget and begin receiving coverage on January 1st, 2020. Aside from written information in Spanish, you can also call and talk to a representative in Spanish.

For those unfamiliar with HealthCare.gov, this government health insurance marketplace is an online shopping site for various plans. Here you can compare prices and benefits, see an explanation of premiums, and what a plan will cost every month before you make a choice. The plans cover essential health benefits, pre-existing conditions, and preventive services. For instance, you and your family can preview available plans and estimated prices based on your family´s income even before you log in. 

When shopping for a plan, make sure you help your relative sign up for one that has doctors and facilities with adequate bilingual care. Health care providers will typically list which languages they speak in an insurance plan’s directory, which can help you filter your search for a plan that offers bilingual care that fits your relative’s needs. Once your family member is signed up, be aware that if there´s a communication gap between the patient and doctor, critical errors when prescribing and the following treatment can happen. Because of this, if you have the time, it’s best to actually contact a health care provider’s office to inquire whether he or she is fluent in Spanish (rather than proficient) prior to choosing your plan; if not, ask if the office can recommend another provider who is fluent, or move on to another plan that does have fluent, bilingual in-network doctors. While medical translators are helpful when you’re in a bind, the best-case scenario for your relative is to have a direct line of communication with the doctor so that nothing is lost in translation.

If it’s not possible for your relative to find a doctor fluent in Spanish within a health plan that he or she can afford, help them find a plan that covers care from institutions that receive funding from the federal government for language-access services. Keep in mind that it can be especially difficult if not impossible to find bilingual mental health care professionals, so don’t get frustrated if you come up against some walls. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, you have the right to request a trained interpreter and to receive forms and information in Spanish.  You might even want to check out Latinx-specific search engines and sites like Latinx Therapy to help guide you to an affordable provider, and then ask which insurance they take, to work backward in the health care signup process. When a loved one is trying to explain something to a doctor about what hurts or ails them, nothing is more distressing than not being able to do so in our own language.