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Correction: Health Overhaul-Spanish story

Thursday - 1/16/2014, 8:50pm  ET

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- In a story Jan. 12 about the Spanish-language health care website, The Associated Press erroneously cited a U.S. Census Bureau statistic on the number of U.S. residents who speak only Spanish. A 2013 Census report said 12.9 percent of Americans speak Spanish at home, and more than half of them are fluent in English as well; not that 12 percent of U.S. residents speak only Spanish.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Health care website frustrates Spanish speakers

Critics say health care website is translated into 'Spanglish,' causing problems for Latinos

By RUSSELL CONTRERAS and KELLI KENNEDY

Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- Mirroring problems with the federal health care website, people around the nation attempting to navigate the Spanish version have discovered their own set of difficulties.

The site, CuidadoDeSalud.gov, launched more than two months late.

A Web page with Spanish instructions linked users to an English form.

And the translations were so clunky and full of grammatical mistakes 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.

The issues with the site underscore the halting efforts across the nation to get Spanish-speakers enrolled under the federal health care law. Critics say that as a result of various problems, including those related to the website, many people whom the law was designed to help have been left out of the first wave of coverage.

Federal officials say they have been working to make the site better and plan further improvements soon. Also, administrators say they welcome feedback and try to fix typos or other errors quickly.

"We launched consumer-friendly Spanish online enrollment tools on CuidadoDeSalud.gov in December which represents one more way for Latinos to enroll in Marketplace plans," said Health and Human Services Department spokesman Richard Olague in an email to The Associated Press. "Since the soft-launch, we continue to work closely with key stakeholders to get feedback in order to improve the experience for those consumers that use the website."

Still, efforts to enroll Spanish-speakers have fallen short in several states with large Hispanic populations, and critics say the translated version of HealthCare.gov could have helped boost those numbers.

In California, officials have acknowledged the need for improvements, saying fewer than 5,500 people signed up for health care in Spanish in October and November, the most recent period for which records are available. About 4.3 million California residents speak only Spanish, according to census data. It's not clear how many of these residents are without health insurance, but observers say few groups are more vulnerable.

"Spanish speakers are typically the ones who need to sign up for health insurance," said Veronica Plaza, a professor who teaches medical Spanish at the University of New Mexico. "They are the ones who could use the support."

In New Mexico, the state with the nation's highest percentage of Latino residents and where more than 20 percent of the state's population goes without health insurance, fewer than 1,000 people total signed up for coverage in October and November.

In Florida, federal health officials have not said how many of the state's nearly 18,000 enrollees for October and November were Latino, but that group accounts 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.

Federal officials have said that about 4 percent of calls to a national hotline were Spanish-only as of last month. The Census Bureau said in a 2013 report that 12.9 percent of the nation's 317 million people speak Spanish at home, and more than half of those speak English well.

Many blame at least some of the enrollment problems on the trouble-plagued site.

"In my opinion, the website doesn't work," said Grettl Diaz, a 37-year-old Miami gas station cashier who is originally from Cuba.

Diaz said she tried to sign up at home using CuidadoDeSalud.gov. After she couldn't get the website to accept a scanned document, she called the government's Spanish hotline seeking help. However, she was repeatedly told to call back because the site was down. She got through days later and waited over an hour for an operator before she was ultimately disconnected.

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