Oregon insurance exchange tackles language barrier

Of the Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon's health insurance exchange will have staff who speak Spanish, Russian and Vietnamese to help explain and market the service that's expected to provide health coverage to thousands of Oregonians.

The exchange, which is called Cover Oregon, will help the uninsured get access to the health coverage and subsidies to help pay for it once the federal health care overhaul requires most Americans to have insurance beginning next year. But the state faces cultural and linguistic challenges in trying to educate limited-English speakers and hard-to-reach populations.

Cover Oregon staff will use an interpretation service to reach people who speak other languages, spokeswoman Lisa Morawski said. The exchange also is partnering with insurance agents and community organizations to reach non-English speakers, and people will be able to search on the Cover Oregon website for someone who provides services in their language.

The website will have applications and some resources available in Spanish, Russian and Vietnamese, but the entire site won't be translated into those languages by the time it launches in October, Morawski said.

Outreach materials will be available in those languages plus Korean, Chinese and Japanese, and “we'll be open to working with organizations on outreach to other populations,” Morawski said.

Among Oregon's population 5 and older, nearly 500,000 people spoke a language other than English at home in 2007, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That's about 14 percent of the population. Just over 227,000 of them spoke English less than “very well.”

The most common languages for people who spoke English less than very well were Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Russian.

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