HHS says it ditched ‘exchanges’ because word doesn’t translate into Spanish

The Obama administration has stopped using the term “exchanges” to describe part of the healthcare law because the word doesn’t translate into Spanish, an official said Thursday.

Anton Gunn, director of External Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said the rebranding of the insurance exchanges as "marketplaces" was geared toward Spanish speakers who will use the system.

"We're going to use the word 'marketplace' because it actually makes sense to people," Gunn said at a conference in Washington, D.C. " 'Exchange' doesn't translate to anything in Spanish, but 'marketplace' does."

Effective language is vital to ensure that "the Affordable Care Act [is] real to people in this country," Gunn said.


"We know that 12 million of the people eligible [for the law] speak Spanish, and one million more speak a language other than English or Spanish. These are the people we need to reach," he said.

Earlier this month, HHS changed the way it refers to the healthcare law's signature component: the one-stop markets where the uninsured can compare and buy healthcare coverage, sometimes using a federal subsidy.

The change came amid a push by conservative activists to block state-based exchanges in hopes of crippling the law. Democrats denied the shift in vocabulary was made to battle political opposition to the overhaul, but conservative activists called it a desperate move.

Gunn joked Thursday that anyone using the word "exchange" rather than "marketplace" needs to "put a quarter in the jar" for flubbing the terminology.

Often called "exchanges," the "marketplaces" are set to launch next year, and open enrollment for coverage will begin in October.

Gunn spoke at an annual conference hosted by Families USA, a powerful backer of the Affordable Care Act, where he called for pressure on state officials to accept the law's Medicaid expansion.

HHS has bent over backwards urging states to expand eligibility in the program and to run their own healthcare exchanges.

"We're committed to work with states when they're ready to work with us," Gunn said. "There is no closed door. There is no wrong door to get to this place where we need to be."