For people with Medicare who have Limited English Proficiency (LEP), the annual Medicare Open Enrollment Period, which starts October 15 and ends December 7, can be a confusing time of complicated choices, limited in-language resources, and a barrage of advertising and mailings. 

This year brings some significant new resources to help the LEP individual to navigate the maze. The Medicare & You Handbook, which contains detailed descriptions of the program, is now available for the first time in Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese. It also continues to be available in Spanish. Digital copies of the handbook in Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese can be found here. Paper copies can be requested by calling 1-800-MEDICARE.  

We urge advocates who work with LEP clients speaking these languages to: 

  • Encourage clients to request the translated Handbook and, when doing so, ask that it be sent to them in subsequent years. 
  • Request copies for your office. The translated versions can be a valuable resource when counseling clients, particularly when used side-by-side with the English-language version. 

Other, generally underutilized, Medicare resources for LEP individuals

  • Call centers. Both the Medicare program (1-800-MEDICARE) and all Medicare Advantage and Part D prescription drug plans offer interpreter services in virtually all non-English languages. In most cases, there is a special prompt for Spanish. For other languages, the best approach may be to say “agent” repeatedly until reaching a representative. Automated prompt systems are persistent, so urge clients to be persistent as well. After reaching the representative, identifying the language needed, without additional explanation, should get an interpreter on the line.
  • Spanish version of the website. Go to the upper right-hand corner of the homepage and click “Cambiar a Español.” The direct link is  
  • Medicare publications in 23 non-English languages. The Medicare program has translated a significant number of helpful shorter publications on Medicare. A list of available publications in each language is available here. It is accessible from the homepage by scrolling down to “Get information in other languages,” which is the last item under “Take Action.” 
  • SHIP Medicare counseling. The State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (SHIPs) offer free unbiased assistance in making Medicare choices. All SHIP programs offer free assistance in non-English languages through language lines. In addition, many, if not most, have counselors who speak non-English languages prevalent in their geographic areas. Find your local SHIP program.  

Note: As advocates are well aware, many LEP clients get into very difficult situations when they fail to act on Medicare notices that they cannot understand. At the same time, statistics compiled by CMS show that use of interpreter services and uptake of translated materials are well below what should be expected given the number of LEP Medicare enrollees. Advocates should encourage their LEP clients to use available language services when they have questions or when they are confused about mail regarding their Medicare benefits. 


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