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Nancy Smith

Sorry, Florida, Obamacare No Habla Español

January 17, 2014 - 6:00pm

It isn't the malfunction. Or even the insultingly bad Spanish. It's the intentional delay of, the Spanish version of the Obamacare website, that South Miami hairdresser Sofia De Lara can't get over.

"What it means to me is, my president was telling me I don't count," De Lara told Sunshine State News on Thursday.

In mid-December, with two weeks left to purchase health insurance to be effective Jan. 1, the federal Department of Health and Human Services announced the "soft launch" of its Spanish-language enrollment option under the Affordable Care Act. That meant the heavily flawed site would be up, but nobody would be working on its problems.
was originally supposed to go live Oct. 1, but it was indefinitely delayed when's technical difficulties forced the federal agency to redirect resources away from the Spanish site in order to work on round-the-clock debugging of the English-language version.

"I called to find out why we were being treated like second-class citizens and they told me it's because we're 'linguistically isolated,' " said De Lara. I know what that means. It's fancy words for discrimination."

Daniel Garza agrees with De Lara. "This shows a stunning lack of respect for the Hispanic community, and a lack of concern for the uninsured -- particularly those who may have lost their insurance because of the health care law," said Garza, executive director of the LIBRE Initiative, a conservative nonprofit, grassroots organization.

Garza is a GOP operative who launched LIBRE more than two years ago to help galvanize the Hispanic conservative vote for the 2012 election. With Republicans seizing on Obamacare as a potential Democratic campaign weak spot, the Spanish health care website, like the English one, offers ammunition for LIBRE's 2014 political campaigns.

In Florida, Hispanics, or Latinos, account for about one-third of the roughly 3.5 million uninsured people in the state. About 1.2 million people in the state speak only Spanish.

While in Miami last Monday, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, ran into a buzz-saw. Others, just like De Lara, wanted answers. Sebelius admitted trying to sign up on the Spanish-language site is "a very frustrating website experience."

She said, "I don't think there's any question that there has been some delay in some of the Spanish features. was not available Oct. 1 and then intentionally delayed in terms of outreach because until we got the (English) website fixed, it did not seem to be prudent to add another constituency ... to a very frustrating website experience."

Hispanics account for over 60 percent of Miami-Dade's resident population. According to the last census, about 29 percent of the county's Hispanic residents are Spanish-only speakers. That elevates the importance of the Spanish-language website in South Florida.

"So many of these people are confused and helpless," Rosa Cortez-Leon told Sunshine State News.

"I don't like this," she said. "I got two sisters who don't like it either, and I don't think we're going to sign up." Cortez-Leon, a dental assistant in Hialeah, and her sisters are all in their 20's, in the Obamacare target range. But they have "no faith" in a health care plan so badly explained in the language they know best.

"It isn't for us we worry," explained Cortez-Leon. "We can read and write English. It's for our parents and their friends. The older generation. Who wrote this website, Adam Sandler?

"I think we are owed an apology," she said. translations to Spanish have been called "so clunky and full of grammatical errors" that critics say they must have been computer-generated -- the name of the site itself can literally be read "for the caution of health."

"When you get into the details of the plans, it's not all written in Spanish. It's written in Spanglish, so we end up having to translate it for them," said Adrian Madriz, a health care navigator who helps with enrollment in Miami.

Hence, Rosa Cortez-Leon's reference to actor Adam Sandler, who made "Spanglish" a household word in 2004, during the popularity of the movie of the same name.

Meanwhile, Miami cab driver Mateo Fernandez, whose wife speaks Spanish only, claims he's always been an optimistic fellow, but Obamacare is trying his patience. It took him more than a dozen tries to sign up, and then he had to complete the paperwork by seeing a navigator. "My wife is afraid. She doesn't understand any of it so she's afraid of it."

Navigators say what makes the Obamacare sign-ups worse is that Spanish-language applicants must provide income and immigration documentation. Frequently, applicants are required to scan and fax supplemental documents, and that can be overwhelmingly challenging.

Said Fernandez, "There are people I know who lose their insurance next month and they aren't signed up," he said. "They have it worse than me.

"I guess it will get better," he said. "I voted for Obama so I am giving him another chance. It has to get better, doesn't it?"

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

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