April 05--People who are looking for an insurance agent or broker who speaks a foreign language or American Sign Language have a new tool to help in their search.
The California Department of Insurance on Tuesday launched an online service to help consumers find bilingual or multilingual professionals.
The agent language locator can help find agents and brokers who speak any of 36 languages throughout the state, according to a statement from the department.
Of Merced County's 973 agents, 114 are participating in the language locator service, the department reported. Of those, 47 speak languages other than English.
The languages offered in Merced County include: American Sign Language, Hmong, Spanish, Arabic, Cambodian, French, Hindi, Punjabi and Portuguese.
"Insurance agents are a trusted source in helping consumers determine how best to protect themselves and their assets," Dave Jones, insurance commissioner for the Department of Insurance, said in the statement. "Having an agent who can communicate in your language results in a better understanding of the policies and helps ensure you get the appropriate coverage for your needs."
The types of insurance people can search for are health; automobile; homeowners/renters; life and annuity; long-term care and worker's compensation. The agent's license status also is available.
Having people in the health insurance business who speak the same languages as their clients can help a lot, said Candice Adam-Medefind, executive director for Healthy House, a local nonprofit organization that provides services and promotes health of multi-ethnic communities.
There are many Eastern cultures, such as Hmong and Lao, that rely heavily on nonverbal context when communicating, Adam-Medefind said, and finding people to communicate in person and in the same language can make a difference for many refugee or immigrant populations in Merced.
"An interpreter who's there would notice eye movements and gestures, the way people react and understand or their hesitation," Adam-Medefind said. "There's a lot of nonverbal communication."
"I always think it's wonderful when any business or industry embraces language access," she added.
Xay Yang, an independent life insurance agent based in Atwater, speaks fluent Hmong and works primarily with Hmong clients.
To an extent, people feel more comfortable when they're able to communicate in their native language, Yang said, but added it's earning a client's trust "that's more important than the language."
Department of Insurance spokeswoman Allison Castro said she hopes more insurance agents will participate in the service.
"It will give Californians more opportunity to find the workers who speak their language," she said. "It doesn't matter where they live or what language they speak."
The language locator can be found at www.insurance.ca.gov. People with questions or concerns can call the Department of Insurance at 800-927-4357.
This story has been corrected from an earlier version.
Monica Velez: 209-385-2486
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