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Low Health Literacy: A Concern For Health Insurance Providers And Americans

posted by Nikolas Wong

on October 15, 2018

If you have trouble navigating through our health care system, you’re not alone. More than half of Americans have low health literacy, according to new data from Accenture—a professional services company who developed a Health Care System Literacy Index to understand health care competency. That’s just as many people who suffer from some chronic medical problems like obesity.

Health care professionals should take low health literacy seriously, as it greatly affects the lives—and health—of Americans every day. The inability to use health insurance to access health services leads to delayed care and chronic conditions. Low health care literacy is one of the biggest barriers to preventing and treating heart disease.

A patient with limited health literacy may not understand that a stress test described as ‘positive’ is not a good result.

– Dr. Jared W. Magnani, Pittsburgh, PA

Health insurance providers want to improve health literacy. When consumers understand basic insurance concepts or know how to find a doctor or fill a prescription, they can lead happier and healthier lives. Insurance providers nationwide are addressing this problem, using tools like glossaries, simplified language, and dedicated experts to help their members understand and use information to achieve and maintain good health.

Many AHIP health insurance providers like Aspire Health Plan, Avera, Dakota Care, and Neighborhood Health Plan have online resources that offer a wealth of knowledge. From A-Z visitors can skim through common health insurance and medical terms. Even AHIP has a helpful health insurance resource in MyHealthPlan.guide, where you can find answers to common questions.

Other organizations are committed to using simplified language to make their materials easy to understand. That’s what Priority Health’s Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) uses for all brochures—short, simple descriptions and limited use of acronyms and technical terms.

There’s also a personal approach to improving health literacy. People with coverage from Aflac, for example, can get help from health care advocates, people with the expertise and experience to assist employers and their employees with the health care process. These advocates can help employers reduce claims and promote the use of network providers. For employees, advocates can help decipher medical bills and work with insurance companies on the employee’s behalf.

Americans with proficient health literacy skills can navigate the health system, receive medical services in a timely manner, and prevent serious health problems. Fortunately, health insurance providers are addressing this challenge and will continue to update their glossaries with need-to-know information, remove jargon from language guides, and offer industry mentors to give Americans the confidence to become active partners in their health care.


Want to hear more about improving how people understand health care? Register today for AHIP’s 2018 Consumer Experience and Digital Health Forum, Dec. 10 – 13.

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