For the Caution of Health:

For the Caution of Health:

by Translation Guy on January 21, 2014

The Obamacare website sucks in Spanish, too: “Obamacare es un desastre en español también.”

Spanish speakers hoping to enroll on the federal healthcare website still can’t use the site even after a two-month launch delay.

Critics say the Spanish reads like machine translation. Isn’t that what they always say? But the translations are so clunky and full of grammatical errors that the information is useless. The name of the site itself can literally be read as “for the caution of health.”

“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,” says Adrian Madriz, a healthcare navigator who helps with enrollment in Miami.

According to Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein, “’s October 1st launch was a disaster. But at least it was a punctual disaster. The site’s Spanish-language version — — launched more than two months late. It doesn’t look like the Obama administration used the extra time wisely.”

An example of the kind of translations on the site: “premium” is translated as “prima” — which usually refers to a female cousin. An insurance industry translator would, of course, use such terms as “cuotas,” ‘”couta mensual” or “costo annual.”

The site also breaks that cardinal rule of good website localization:  if you start a transaction in a language, you stick with that language until the transaction is complete. Instead, directs back to English-language pages on the main site. However, the Spanish-language site does maintain fidelity to the original, at least in terms of crash frequency and screen freezes.

Health and Human Services Department spokesman Richard Olague claims this is a “soft launch” with corrections and suggestions welcome. But website problems have slowed sign-ups among Spanish speakers, a key constituency expected to benefit from the new health law. Efforts to enroll Spanish speakers have fallen short so far with fewer than 5,500 people signed up in Spanish through November 2013 out of 4.3 million Spanish speakers in California.


  1. Marc says:

    FWIW, the Oxford English-Spanish Dictionary gives “prima” as the translation for “insurance premium”. The Collins English-Spanish Dictionary does too. And the Spanish Royal Academy defines it as, “17. f. Com. Precio que el asegurado paga al asegurador, de cuantía unas veces fija y otras proporcional.”

    • admin says:

      Do you challenge the challenge, Marc?

  2. Having managed US healthcare translations for more than 10 years, I can tell you that different translators and different US Spanish-speaking populations prefer different terms for healthcare and premiums. “Cuidado de salud” is widely accepted here in California, but so is “Atención de salud”. Same with “cuota” and “prima”. No one would confuse prima for cousin in a healthcare context.

    The lack of consensus highlights terminology variations from speakers’ countries of origin. Vital translations like this website benefit immensely from a stateside translation team composed of linguists from diverse backgrounds who bring different perspectives to decisions about what is most appropriate. I mention stateside because US translators are more likely to be familiar with terms that local populations prefe, not to mention familiarity with local government institutions and systems that are either nonexistent or fundamentally different in other countries.

    But agencies continue to hire cheaper overseas translators for texts directed at US markets. No one would ever argue against hiring translators located in Japan for communications directed at audiences in Japan, but in the reverse situation, cost greatly influences translator choice, often to the detriment of a translation’s primary goal: clear communication.

    • admin says:

      James, in this case, was the reason for the reported terminology challenge to “prima” motivated from linguistic or political concerns? Would you have translated to that term? What about the machine translation accusation?

  3. Tatjana says:

    I really feel bad when few top notch bodies like Obamacare ignore the importance of translation. This needs to be on the top priority of to do list in obamacare’s management. I think for obamacare, there is a urgent need of complete website translation audit to be done by individual native language speakers.

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