September 27, 2013


Transcending Cultural and Linguistic Barriers in Communicating Obamacare

By Monica Carty, Health Staff

Just a few days to go until the New York health insurance marketplace opens to all New Yorkers, and it’s clear that the people that need to hear the message the most are still confused about Obamacare. According to a Washington Post-ABC poll conducted recently, 6 out of 10 Americans feel like they do not have the information necessary to understand the new healthcare law. 

This applies significantly to immigrant communities and communities of color, which is why the Children’s Defense Fund-NY, along with Community Service Society, the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, and New American Media, teamed up to host a roundtable for media outlets in New York City that cater their reporting to immigrants and communities of color. At the federal and the state levels, here has been a significant effort to connect immigrants who are less comfortable speaking English to the health insurance for which  they are qualified. Many materials created by New York’s official marketplace - New York State of Health - are offered in various languages that are commonly spoken in New York State. However, according to Noilyn Abesamis-Mendoza, MPH of the Coalition for Asian-American Children and Families, issues of cultural differences and language translation still abound. For example, Abesamis-Mendoza talked about how terms like “health marketplace” become confusing when translated literally, and leads some consumers to think that the “health marketplace” is a physical building, and not a system of health insurance access.  Additionally, cultural differences between the place of origin of some immigrants and America make trust in government programs difficult, since some immigrants have come from countries where a “government program” was not a sign of government assistance.

Abesamis-Mendoza and Nora Chaves, of Community Service Society, expressed the necessity and the usefulness of having community-based organizations, faith-leaders, and other community groups/leaders encourage people to look into the new health insurance options. The best way to communicate the positive benefits of health insurance navigation is by word of mouth; neighbors talking to neighbors about their experiences.

Even for native English speakers, it is no simple task to navigate the American healthcare system and all its moving parts. Nonetheless, it is essential to the success of Obamacare that communities, where the learning curve to understand healthcare jargon can make the process more intimidating, understand the value of health insurance.

Click below to see the presentations from the event:

Maryanne Tomazic, Field Coordinator for Raising Women’s Voices Raising Women’s Voices – New York

Noilyn Abesamis-Mendoza, Health Policy Director at the Coalition for Asian American Children & Families

Sara Rothstein, Director of Policy and Planning at NY State of Health

View the Release as a .pdf: