Translation for open enrollment

Translation for open enrollment requires a strong termbase, meticulous QA and seamless file transfer between clients and their language service partner.

What is open enrollment?

Open enrollment matters to people who get their health insurance through their job, Medicare, or the Affordable Health Act (ACA) marketplace. Between November 1 and December 31, members must either re-enroll in their current health plan or choose a new one for the following year.  

Before this period begins, health insurance carriers need to make all the costs and details of their new plan offerings available. Documents include summaries of benefits and coverage (SBCs), benefit highlights (BHs), evidence of benefits (EOBs), and health insurance plan (HIP) brochures. These documents can range in size from a few pages to 80 pages or more. In addition to translation, they require reformatting / desktop publishing to accommodate the new language. Scriptis has been handling these types of projects for 15+ years. Here’s a case study that describes the process in more detail. 

Because employers generally offer a range of plans from several carriers, some open enrollment documents are essentially marketing materials. Others serve as legally enforceable contracts between the plan and its members, so every detail must be absolutely accurate.

Why is translation for open enrollment necessary?

The law applies to health insurance plans whose members live in counties where the primary language for a certain percentage of residents is not English. Plan documents must be made available in the most commonly spoken languages in the service areas, free of charge.

Throughout much of the United States, Spanish is a required target language.  Additional language needs vary widely by region. For example, Vietnamese, Hindi, and Urdu may be needed in Houston. Chicago might require Polish and Arabic. In Philadelphia, Russian and Korean versions of documentation may be necessary.

Challenges of open enrollment translation

A competent, ISO 17100compliant language service provider should be familiar with standard translations of the terminology used in open enrollment documents.  The federal government has already established commonly recognized health insurance terminology for languages spoken in the US. In addition, a carrier may provide a list of brand-specific terms as well. Translation project managers integrate these into translation tools to establish termbases for translation.

The real challenges of translation for open enrollment involve process and logistics.  A carrier will offer a variety of health plans with different coverages. In addition, the summaries offered by employers need to be customized. A carefully considered file transfer plan needs to be established and followed by the client and the language partner. Otherwise, a regulated flow of content for translation can become an unruly tsunami.

High volume and tight deadlines present a second challenge. Our clients can’t provide us with the English source content until it’s completely ready. Delays finalizing the English documents will shorten the turnaround time for translations, because the start of open enrollment is a drop-dead deadline.  A translation provider need to be able to adapt quickly to unexpected delays and shortened timelines.

A related challenge is quality assurance. Even the most careful among us makes an occasional mistake. Open enrollment documents leave absolutely no room for error.  This is why project managers ensure that both automated QA and human reviews are performed. An automated QA process catches both numerical and linguistic errors. It’s important to note that an experienced project manager will be able to fine‑tune and customize the process for the needs of the client. They will also be able to recognize and override false positives, all while meeting the deadline.

Can you change your translation provider before open enrollment?

Absolutely! If last year’s open enrollment translation process caused delays and frustration for your project managers and production teams, now is the perfect time to onboard a new translation partner.

In addition, if you are using different language service providers for different languages, you will save time and money by entrusting the translation of all required languages to a single vendor. 

Collaborating with a new translation partner may seem daunting, however, there are things you can do to prepare and ensure that your new partner will hit the ground running when the OE documents arrive for translation.

How to change translation providers

First off, your new translation partner will need to know:

  • Which languages will you need? 
  • Which types of documents (length, format, content) will you be sending?
  • What are your open enrollment translation deadlines?

Once these basic questions are answered, your new project manager will prepare to respond quickly to your requests. There’s no reason to start from zero. You probably already have resources to help the translators turn your projects around quickly and accurately.

Best option:  Get your translation memory (TM)

Your best option for an easy transition is to ask your current translation provider to provide your translation memory (TM). A TM is a client-specific database of matched pairs of English source phrases (“segments”) and the translations that language professionals have already created.  When a new document needs translation, the TM identifies previously translated segments and auto‑fills them. These segments still need proofreading and QA, but a TM ensures consistency while saving you time and money.

As a client, you are legally entitled to this translation memory because it is your intellectual property.  Ask the translation provider to send the TM as a .tmx (translation memory exchange) file. Providing this file to your new translation vendor immediately reduces costs.

Keep in mind, however, that poor TM maintenance could well have been partly responsible for your dissatisfaction with your former vendor’s services. Our PMs can “clean up” messy TMs prior to launching the first project.  And, if your provider refuses to turn over the TM, that should confirm that switching providers was the right decision. It’s possible they were not keeping a separate TM for each client, which is a problem.

Second best option: Send glossaries, term bases, style guides, and brand guides

If you don’t have these items on hand, you can assemble a portfolio of documents that are representative of the documents you’ll need. For an additional fee, a new translation provider might try to create a new TM by matching the native source and target files. This takes time and often doesn’t pay off as much as one would expect.  However, keep in mind that your translation provider will start building your TM as soon as the work begins.

Establish a file exchange process

Scriptis uses a customer portal to receive source files and deliver translations. This eliminates the need to email back and forth. Just ask our current insurance clients. They love it!

Take the pain out of translation for open enrollment!

A good language provider should work to ease the burden on you.  Expert project management, technical savvy, and, of course, professional translators, should combine to reduce stress on you and your team during your busiest time of the year.