3 ways to boost health insurance literacy

If the average patient's ability to understand medical information is poor, the U.S. public's comprehension of the current healthcare/insurance system is in dire need of improvement.

For example, about half of health consumers with private insurance admit to not fully knowing what their benefits cover, according to a recent survey conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The consequences for healthcare providers of poor healthcare literacy is twofold: Patients may forego or delay care until their conditions become more serious, and they may not be prepared to manage their out-of-pocket responsibilities when they do use services.

The good news, however, is that there are steps healthcare organizations can take to help boost consumers' healthcare literacy. Consider the following suggestions provided in a recent post from O'Dwyer's:

  1. Create and provide a glossary of healthcare/insurance terms. Compile a list of frequently misunderstood terms, such as deductible, coinsurance and prior authorization, and define them in a way your patient population will understand. Use simple language that takes into account patients' cultural context and share the document via multiple channels, including your website/social media accounts, flyers/brochures and perhaps attached to patient bills.
  2. Promote transparency. Pinning down patients' exact out-of-pocket costs upfront can be difficult, but the list of tools to help healthcare providers access such information is growing constantly. Just this month, for example, the state of Massachusetts began mandating health insurers to post the costs of a variety of medical procedures for their enrollees. Meanwhile, the American Society of Clinical Oncology's Value in Cancer Care Task Force is developing an algorithm-based tool that compares the benefits, side effects and costs of various treatments for specific types of cancer.
  3. Eliminate embarrassment. "Fun and healthcare aren't normally words you think about together," said the post. "But to get and keep patients and consumers involved in their care, finding ways online to use games or videos or blogs can really help people know they are not alone and it doesn't have to be intimidating," wrote author Michal Regunberg, senior vice president at public relations firm Solomon McCown & Company.

To learn more:
- read the article