Was Obamacare's Spanish-Language Website Really Even Necessary?

CuidadoDeSalud.govThe delayed roll-out of the U.S. government's healthcare website has been a public relations nightmare for the Obama Administration. Adding to the woes is the late launch of the Spanish-language version of the site. CuidadoDeSalud.gov is more than two months behind the English-language launch, Healthcare.gov, and just two weeks before the also-delayed deadline for January 1 coverage.

Was a translated website even warranted?

Latinos, by the Numbers

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2012 American Community Survey, Hispanic and Latino Americans are the nation's largest ethnic majority, with 53 million representing 17 percent of the total population of the country. While a significant majority (35 million or 65 percent) have ethnic roots in Mexico, the remaining 35 percent have roots in, in order of size, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and other nearby Hispanic/Latino lands. More than 50 percent of these residents are concentrated in California, Texas, and Florida.

The vast majority (78 percent) speak Spanish at home, of which 9.6 million spoke no English at all or "not well," by census reports.

Ongoing Debate

The United States has considerable ethnic diversity and, like many other nations, considerable public debate over how, why, and when the government should respond to the diverse needs of these populations. While American English dominates speech and printed materials throughout the nation, the federal government does not have, in fact, an official language; only slightly more than half of its states do.

The growth of the nation's Hispanic and Latino American community has come with increasing demand for bilingual materials, especially in state and federal publications. This prompted a push-back from the nation's conservative quarters as well as the formation of a handful of "English only" political organizations, some of which have been classified as hate groups.

Their campaigns were effective however: many of the states that formally established English as the official state language did so in the mid to late 80s. Additional legislative initiatives at promoting English came to the fore in 2006 and 2007 as amendments to U.S. immigration reform.

Along the campaign trail in 2008, Barack Obama sparked additional controversy when he had this to say about the matter:

You know, I don’t understand when people are going around worrying about, “We need to have English only.” They want to pass a law, “We want English only.”

Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English - they’ll learn English - you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language.

Of course, English-only movements long predate the current White House administration and even the 1980s campaigns. Indeed, most English-only initiatives are tied to the nation's early acquisition of land and and related mass influxes of laborers.

A Done Deal

Despite polarization, both of the major U.S. political parties recognize the political and economic impacts of the nation's Hispanic and Latino Americans. In the health care sector, specifically, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has reported that some two-thirds of Hispanic and Latino Americans are uninsured.

When the October 1 roll out of the English site was plagued with technical difficulties that placed the Administration on the defensive, however, the Spanish-language roll-out was among the first priorities placed on the chopping block so that human resources could be diverted to the main site's fix.

Nevertheless, there was no question about whether there was going to be a Spanish-version of the site. Indeed, the latest political messaging of the anti-Obamacare packs doesn't question its presence. Rather, they challenge why the Obama Administration did not "respect" the Hispanic and Latino American community by ensuring that it was timely and bug-free.

While HHS reports that only 3 percent of calls to the toll-free helpline of Healthcare.gov are in Spanish, there is no denying that federal government officials believe that the nation's Spanish-speakers make the larger initiative warranted. Only time will tell how much.

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