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Open Enrollment: Communication With Your Applicants in Any Language

Woman sitting in front of computer taking notes.

It’s that time of year again. Today the Marketplace Open Enrollment Period commences, and Americans across the country will be shopping for new health insurance plans for 2017 coverage. If you’re a health insurance provider, you’re braced for the influx of calls that’ll be pouring into your call centers – many are confused applicants who are getting health insurance for the first time. Your call center agents are probably prepared for all of the questions, but are they prepared for all of the languages?

There are a lot of limited-English speakers out there.

One in five Americans speaks a language other than English at home. And about 41% of this multilingual group is considered “Limited English Proficient” (LEP). That’s 25 million people (about 9% of the entire population) in the U.S. who speak English “less than very well.”

Just looking at the numbers alone, it’s safe to say that your call center agents are going to be engaging with this population.

With great access comes great responsibility.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires insurers to accept all applicants, cover a specific list of conditions and charge the same affordable rates regardless of pre-existing conditions or sex. And, with the language access requirements of Section 1557 of the ACA in place, limited-English speakers are granted better access to healthcare and coverage.

Reports indicate that a significant portion of the limited-English-speaking population remains un- or underinsured. Among the estimated 25 million limited-English speakers in the U.S., more than 1/3 were uninsured. That’s 9.5 million people.

So, with increased access to health coverage, this already-significant population of limited-English speakers (many of whom are un- or underinsured) is going to be reaching out to your agents in high numbers during this year’s open enrollment.

And they’re going to be speaking a multitude of languages – not just Spanish, although that’s certainly at the top of the list. Your agents have to be prepared to engage effectively with speakers of Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, French, Korean, German… and any of the other 350 languages spoken in the United States

Navigating the healthcare landscape is difficult for everyone (even English speakers).

Researching health plans and choosing the right one is hard work, even when you speak the language.

  • “Confusing, complicated and conflicting.”
    In an Aetna survey, 88% of those interviewed said the available information (regarding health insurance plans) is confusing and complicated. 84% complained that health plans provide conflicting details. 83% said that, in the end, it can be too hard determining which plan is best for them. (Choosing Health Insurance is Harder Than Parenting?)
  • Misunderstanding plan features.
    George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon, found that people misunderstood plan features and costs. Even with plan details right in front of them, only 40% of privately insured Americans could identify how much they’d have to pay for an M.R.I. scan. Only 11% could report what a four-day hospital stay would cost them. Yet study subjects were overconfident. (Why Consumers Often Err In Choosing Health Plans)
  • Low health literacy.
    Healthcare terminology can be difficult, even for English speakers. In a telephone survey of 1,008 U.S. adults, the American Institute of CPAs found that more than half of U.S. adults cannot accurately identify one of three terms commonly used in health care: premiums, co-pays and deductibles. (Health Care Disparities in the Post-Affordable Care Act Era)
  • Overwhelming choices.
    A shopper in the Marketplace can choose from 40 plans, on average. A typical Medicare beneficiary can choose from among nearly 20 Medicare Advantage plans and 30 stand-alone prescription drug plans. (Why Consumers Often Err In Choosing Health Plans)

Now imagine you don’t speak the language...

Your language services provider is vital today, tomorrow and onwards. 

As referenced above, provisions in the ACA (Section 1557) require that health insurance providers receiving Federal funding or participating in the Federally Facilitated Marketplace provide “meaningful access” to healthcare and coverage for limited-English speakers. This means having language services in place, like qualified interpreters and translated documents, so limited-English speakers aren’t butting up against language barriers in their pursuit of health coverage. These language access regulations also mandate that covered entities provide translated notices and taglines (in the top 15 non-English languages in their state of operation) alerting limited-English speakers to the language support available to them.

Support all of your applicants.

An exceptional language services provider opens up a whole new world for you – one in which you can support all of your applicants, regardless of their language, one where complying with language access regulations is a breeze. And considering today’s healthcare enrollers are speaking more languages than ever before, this is certainly a world you want to be in.  

You need to support and inform all of your healthcare applicants (not just the English speakers) during 2017 open enrollment. See how unified language services can make that happen for you. 
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