The Washington Post

Spanish-language insurance site to launch this weekend

The Spanish-language version of the federal government’s online health insurance marketplace will go live Friday evening, Obama administration officials said, in what they hoped would be a quiet rollout aimed at working out any bugs before the site is promoted more widely.

The site, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, will allow people to enroll in health insurance electronically in Spanish. Up until now, Spanish-speakers had to find someone who knew English to assist, or fill out a print application.

A fully functional Spanish-language Web site was supposed to launch alongside HealthCare.gov, the main site, on Oct. 1. But officials delayed the rollout as they tended to technical difficulties on the main online portal.

This weekend, several Hispanic advocacy groups will try out the site as part of a “soft launch” aimed at opening it up to a limited group initially. The administration is hoping to get feedback about the design and figure out whether there are any bugs before it is opened up to a larger number of users.

It will then be promoted more widely, particularly in January, when the administration plans to ramp up efforts to reach and enroll Spanish-speakers.

“We think it’s important to work closely with key stakeholders in this effort and get their feedback to improve the experience,” Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement.

The site is central to the administration’s push to enroll millions of Hispanics, whose participation is viewed as critical to the health law’s success because so many lack insurance. Of the 10.2 million uninsured Latinos who are eligible to get coverage through the marketplaces, about 3.7 million rely on Spanish, officials said.

The site has been up since the summer, but its function has been largely informational.

One of the groups planning to test-drive the site is the League of United Latin American Citizens, an advocacy group. Staff members will try to use it this weekend, followed by a small group of consumers in various locations around the Midwest next weekend.

“We have been waiting for the Spanish language tool for a while,” said Liliana Ranon, LULAC’s director of policy and legislation. “We’re hoping with the launch of the Spanish Web site, we’ll have more energy going into the enrollment process,” particularly as the Dec. 23 deadline approaches for people to get health insurance starting Jan. 1.

Some experts have said some of HealthCare.gov’s widely publicized problems could have been headed off if had been launched in a more limited fashion, which would have reduced the crush of Web traffic that contributed to the marketplace’s initial failures.

Sandhya Somashekhar is the social change reporter for the Washington Post.

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