Translating the healthcare system for new Americans

Published January 7, 2015

If you find it difficult to remember the difference between co-pay and co-insurance, or have to double-check the meaning of “deductible” or “premium,” imagine how much more challenging it would be to understand your health insurance coverage as a non-English speaker.

Many Americans seeking to enroll in coverage for themselves and their families face this issue. Across the country, Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies work to assist non-English speaking members through a variety of programs. Many have dedicated Spanish language websites and customer service options, while others host town hall meetings for Spanish speakers.  

Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are committed to exemplifying the Power of Blue - the power to make a difference in the communities we serve - which means adapting to unique community needs, including languages. One such situation arose in Vermont in early 2014.

Though Vermont is one of the least diverse states in terms of non- English-speakers, its dynamic refugee resettlement effort has brought new Americans from many places. In addition to speaking native languages, many of these people were new to the American health care system altogether.

As Vermont Health Connect, Vermont’s state exchange, reached its deadline for enrolling, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont realized that these pockets of new Vermonters, including Nepali and Somali Bantu groups, were unaware of changes to the healthcare system because there were no meetings and materials about the exchange available in their native languages.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont quickly organized an effort to inform their new neighbors. Many of the new arrivals were on state-subsidized programs, some of which would go away as the state implemented the Affordable Care Act.

“We hoped to help new Americans, who are still learning English, to understand the new healthcare system in Vermont and the help they can get in paying for coverage,” said Megan Peek, community outreach coordinator at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont. “We targeted the Nepali and Somali Bantu groups because they’re among the more recent arrivals and may not know how to access coverage through Vermont Health Connect. We translated some of our brochures and videos for use during the sessions. We also provided interpreters from Vermont Refugee Resettlement to answer questions and state navigators who could sign up new Vermonters for coverage.”

Not only did the attendees at these sessions get help enrolling on the exchange, they were able to ask questions about choosing doctors, getting preventive care and understanding costs.

“We looked at these two meetings as a pilot,” Peek noted. “We hope to reach more refugee groups in other languages in the future.”

Through The Power of Blue, Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are improving healthcare access, enabling healthier living, and improving healthcare quality and affordability, giving families more security – and more freedom – as they look to the future. To learn about other ways Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies are extending The Power of Blue, download the full Investing in America’s Health report.