NEW YORK (AP) — How do you say "Obamacare" in Cantonese?
As the biggest pieces of the president's health care overhaul law are phased in this year, New York state officials are working on a strategy for making sure that people who speak English as a second language aren't left out.
The law requires, for the first time, that most people in the country buy health insurance. Nearly 1 million New Yorkers are expected to do so through the new marketplace known as exchanges that begin enrollment Oct. 1. Another half-million state residents who qualify for the Medicaid program, but have so far not participated, are expected to finally enroll.
About 36 percent of the New Yorkers expected to buy insurance through the exchanges won't be native English speakers, state officials estimate.
The effort to reach them will include advertising in multiple languages and establishing a toll-free number that people can call to get help in nearly any language. The website where people can shop for insurance policies on the exchange will initially be only in English, but a Spanish version will be added shortly, followed by other languages.
But the state hopes to make deeper inroads in immigrant communities through a network of community operatives called navigators who are being hired, at a cost of $7.2 million per year, to help people through the insurance exchanges.
The navigators, who will have certification and training, will be there to help anyone who needs it, but the state also hopes to involve nonprofit organizations, unions and other groups that have a track record of dealing with immigrant groups.
Part of the idea is to have people "right in the community" who can cut through language and cultural barriers, said Donna Frescatore, executive director of the New York State Health Benefit Exchange.
Language barriers aren't the only reason why immigrants tend to be under-enrolled in public health insurance programs, said Jackie Vimo, director of advocacy for the New York Immigration Coalition.
Some worry that applying for Medicaid or other benefits might disrupt their citizenship applications, she said.
"There are a lot of misunderstandings," Vimo said.
Of the 2.7 million uninsured New Yorkers, about a quarter won't be eligible to participate in the new exchanges, or in Medicaid, because they are foreigners in the U.S. illegally.