Another complication for Obamacare—Tagalog(?) interpretation needed

One more headache for those trying to figure out how to run Obamacare—-federal law requires foreign language interpreters for government health care.

So how are they possibly going to get the information to the millions of Americans who don’t speak English?  And, yikes! how much will it cost?

To add to the chaos, the US State Department’s Refugee Resettlement Program is every day adding to the potpourri of obscure languages they will need to be ready for.

Here is the AP story at the Houston Chronicle:

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Set on a gritty corner of Oakland’s International Boulevard, the nonprofit Street Level Health Project offers free checkups to patients who speak a total of 22 languages, from recent Mongolian immigrants seeking a doctor to Burmese refugees in need of a basic dental exam.

It also provides a window into one of the challenges for state officials who are trying to implement the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care overhaul.

Understanding the law is a challenge even for governors, state lawmakers and agency officials, but delivering its message to non-English speakers who can benefit from it is shaping up as a special complication. That is especially true in states with large and diverse immigrant populations.

For Zaya Jaden, a 35-year-old from Mongolia, getting free care for her sister’s persistent migraine was a much higher priority than considering how the expansion of the nation’s social safety net through the Affordable Care Act might benefit her.

The sisters crammed into the clinic’s waiting room, sandwiched between families chatting in the indigenous Guatemalan language Mam, and discussed whether enrolling in Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act would work for the family’s finances.

“It was a good idea that Obama had, but I don’t know if it will work for me,” said Jaden, who gets private insurance for her family through her job as a laundress at an Oakland hotel and currently makes too much money to qualify for Medicaid. “If I make less than what I make to try to qualify for the government program, how could I pay my rent?”

Jaden’s ambivalence demonstrates the cultural and language hurdles that California and several other states are facing as they build exchanges — or health insurance marketplaces —and try to expand coverage to ethnic and hard-to-reach populations.


The U.S. Census estimates that more than 55 million people speak a language other than English at home. Nearly 63 percent of those are Spanish-speakers, with the highest concentrations in Texas, California and New Mexico. Chinese was the third most commonly spoken language, with large populations in California, New York, Hawaii and Massachusetts.

Five other languages have at least 1 million speakers: Tagalog,* French, Vietnamese, German and Korean.

Glad it’s not me figuring out how to make this work!  And, imagine what it will cost.  In one of the first posts I ever wrote here at RRW (July 2007) I reported that the Montgomery County Court (MD) system was shelling out a $1 million a year on interpreters for immigrant court cases.  I wonder if the CBO figured interpreter costs into the taxpayers’ bill for Obamacare?

*Tagalog?  Go here.

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