Politics & Policy

The Obama Administration Presents Spanglish.Gov

Obamacare is at least an equal-opportunity mess.

This morning we were greeted with the news that, the White House having evidently decided that the rollout of HealthCare.gov was such rollicking good fun, we will now get to do it all again — this time in another language. As the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein observes, the Spanish-language version of HealthCare.gov is experiencing some familiar problems. “Sometimes,” Klein concedes, “the site simply doesn’t work at all.” At other times, it seems to develop an identity crisis: “Some links,” notes the Associated Press, “simply take people back to the English-language HealthCare.gov.”

That the website appears incapable of deciding whether it speaks Spanish or English is, in fact, rather appropriate, for, amusingly, the text appears to be written in a kind of “Spanglish” — a novel hybrid-tongue that has been so literally contrived that its form can only have come from Google Translate. Per “Wonkblog“:

The Web site, for instance, translates the word “premium” into “prima” — a word more typically used in Spanish to denote a female cousin. Veronica Plaza, a professor who teaches medical Spanish at the University of New Mexico, told ABC that the site should’ve used “cuotas,” “couta mensual” or “costo annual.”

This is presumably excellent news for those applicants who need their female cousins subsidized, but it is less welcome for the rest of us.

Even the name of the site is wrong — albeit in a peculiarly apposite way. “CuidadoDeSalud.gov,” is supposed to mean “HealthCare.gov.” Instead, it means “for the caution of health.” Fitting, really. You say “prima,” I say “cuotas.” You say “government involvement in health care,” I say “watch out!” You say, “If you like your health insurance, you can keep it,” I say, “You didn’t fall for that old trick, did you?” One frustrated Spanish-speaking woman complained that “there are problems with the verbs and word order that make sentences hard to understand.” Having listened to President Obama attempt to sell his law for four years now, I know how she feels.

It is rather amazing that, having had so little success with computers, the administration would trust them to write its sales pitches. But that’s Washington for you. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again, until the public is beaten into submission and the status quo has taken its irresistible death grip. Hopeful participants can presumably rest safe in the knowledge that by the time that the Zulu incarnation is launched, everything will be A-okay. For now, though, experts are starting to worry. “Hispanics are particularly crucial to Obamacare’s success,” Klein explains, in the tone that the law’s champions tend to adopt when they start looking honestly at the numbers. And if they can’t read the site, then they can’t sign up.

Gabriel Sanchez, a professor at the University of New Mexico, worries that the problems might alienate Hispanics, who might look at the administration and say, “Man, they really don’t care about us.” O, Gabriel! Hast thou no longer faith in the Gospel? Not caring about Hispanics is the Republicans’ thing. As Jane Delgado, the president of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, quickly explained, the delayed rollout and embarrassing shortcomings of the Spanish option aren’t indicative of anything much. Instead, they’re merely “part of the process” — predictable mistakes that could have been made by anybody trying to take over one-sixth of an economy that they don’t understand.

Having watched Obamacare’s progress from its conception to its birth, I would say that Delgado’s par-for-the-course claim is indisputably true. Arrogance, carelessness, and good old-fashioned incompetence are features of the reform effort, not bugs, and there is no reason to expect that non-English speakers would have been given a pass. For all its faults, Obamacare is at least an equal-opportunity mess, and the executive branch is so adept at playing with people’s lives that it can do so not only in a variety of languages but also in dialects that don’t even exist. Anyone for KlingonHealth.gov?

Still, cast aside your partisan hat for a moment and just try honestly to imagine the untrammeled rage to which we would have been subjected had these mistakes been overseen by a Republican president. Then, mistakes would have been indicative of depraved indifference that bordered on “hatred.” The refusal to provide a Spanish website in Spanish would have been the product of linguistic imperialism and an “Anglo-centrism” that neatly explained why the Republican party couldn’t win Hispanics. We would have heard a lot of silly talk about the return of “separate but equal.” In the course of investigating what the snafu “really meant,” MSNBC’s cast would have had a collective aneurysm; Salon’s Joan Walsh would have died of exhaustion; and the number crunchers at Public Policy Polling would have commissioned poll after poll asking whether Hispanics felt deliberately snubbed. There might even have been a civil-rights investigation.

“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,” Adrian Madriz, a Miami-based Obamacare “navigator” frustratedly told the AP. I feel your pain, Adrian. Opponents of the law have been trying to translate the official line for years now — and all we have got to show for our efforts is this lousy, shoddy, embarrassing — and now polyglot — disaster.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.


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