According to Pew Research, one third of foreign born people in the U.S. do not currently have health insurance. This is likely to change when the marketplaces go into effect in 2014. Estimates from RAND suggest that in 2016, 2 million Asian Americans and 5.4 million Latinos who would otherwise be uninsured will gain or be eligible for coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Many individuals in these newly eligible communities may need language access assistance to help them understand the complex world of health exchanges and get the care they need.
Health literacy challenges of LEP and minority populations
Navigating the healthcare system, especially the new exchanges, is challenging enough for seasoned professionals, let alone for someone who doesn’t speak English as their first language. In fact, according to a recent study from Carnegie Mellon University, only 14 percent of consumers surveyed understand basic insurance terms such as “copayments,” and “deductibles.” This is further compounded by language barriers. Among the foreign born or first-generation Hispanics only 37% percent say they can read a newspaper or book in English “very well” or “pretty well” according to Pew. Similarly, only about half (53% percent) of foreign-born Asians say they speak English very well, compared with 95% percent of the U.S. born Asian-Americans.
As open enrollment begins, communicating complicated concepts of health insurance and the associated benefits with limited-English-proficient (LEP) communities requires providing them with materials in their native languages for true understanding to take place. Most of this demographic will have never had health insurance before. While some exchanges and plans may provide mandated documents including Evidence of Coverage (EOC) in the more common languages such as Mandarin or Spanish, brokers working with more niche markets may need to look a little harder for materials in these specific languages or create their own.