An opposing view on ACA language translation requirements

After reading that title, you might think I’ve lost my mind. So let me make this clear: I’m not opposed to language translation. I’m opposed to treating it only as a regulatory requirement – for instance, thinking of it as the “health care reform translation requirements.”

Yes, the ACA requires certain communications to be translated (such as adverse benefit determinations). However, those requirements are just one piece of a larger puzzle. Consider the following …

Language was a barrier for ACA enrollment

Many of the ACA language requirements focused on notifications and plan documents. However, a larger issue emerged early last year: trouble enrolling Spanish-speaking members.

During the first round of Marketplace enrollments, Hispanics were slow to sign up for coverage. According to the Health Reform Monitoring Survey (HRMS) conducted by the Urban Institute, reasons for this include:

  • Attitudes about the need for health insurance
  • Low levels of health insurance literacy
  • Delayed translation and poor translation of enrollment websites

If your member population includes a significant number of people who speak Spanish (or another language), translating only the required documents is not good enough. You also need to translate communications used in your community outreach and enrollment efforts.

Translation is key to health literacy

According to a recent study, Latinos are nearly twice as likely as the general population to say they’d use the emergency department (ED) for nonemergency care. Key to solving this issue is improving health literacy (the ability to understand how health care or health insurance works). For example, a health literacy intervention in California reduced nonemergency use of the emergency department significantly.

This is another reason why translating required documents is the bare minimum. As I mentioned in my blog about multi-language member portals, “A key factor in consumer engagement is speaking to members in a language that makes sense to them.” That means translating your online tools, educational materials, and more.

The bottom line: doing more than the minimum is good business

Translation shows that you respect your members’ culture and preferences. And ultimately it can help improve care and make an impact on utilization patterns. That’s a win for members, employers, and health plans alike.

Note: Healthx provides multi-language translation services for our member portals and mobile apps. For more information, visit the multi-language services page.

Mike Gordon is the Chief Product and Strategy Officer at Healthx. He has more than 23 years of software and information technology experience, with extensive expertise in product development for healthcare payer organizations.